March 30, 2017

Campaigners call for transparency over Home Office meetings with tech companies

Civil liberty organisations have written to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd in advance of her meeting with tech companies on Thursday, March 30th.

Rudd has asked for a meeting to discuss ways that companies can help the Government combat terrorism. It comes in the wake of Rudd’s comments to the BBC’s Andrew Marr about encryption and her desire to talk to people “who understand the necessary hashtags” in order to prevent extremist content from being posted online.

The campaigners are calling for:

• Transparency about any meetings and agreements made between the Government and tech companies 

• Evidence-based policies that do not jeopardise the personal security of UK citizens 

• Input from the civil society, human rights and legal organisations to ensure that the privacy, and free speech rights of citizens are protected

Encryption is vital for ensuring that citizens can communicate, shop and bank online safely. Weakening encryption technologies would put UK citizens at greater risk of cyber crime.

The Investigatory Powers Act gives the Government the power to compel companies to reengineer their products and services if it is reasonable and technically possible. This means that the government can secretly order companies to remove encryption.

Online content
The Government wants companies to take down online extremist content that they believe radicalises individuals to carry out acts terrorism. Transparency and judicial oversight should be required for government takedown requests.

The full letter is available here.

Quotes from signatories

Jim Killock, Executive Director, Open Rights Group:

“Rudd’s comments to Marr show a worrying lack of understanding about how encryption keeps us all safe. She clearly needs to talk to experts but this should be done openly and transparently. Secret deals between governments and companies have no place in a democracy.”

Rebecca Vincent, UK Bureau Director, Reporters Without Borders:

"Amber Rudd's comments on encryption are yet another example of this government sacrificing freedom of expression, the right to privacy, and other human rights in the name of security, and contribute to a very worrying trend of increasing attacks on press freedom in the UK in recent months. The ability to communicate securely is essential for investigative journalists, their sources, and whistleblowers. Eliminating encryption tools likes WhatsApp would have a broad chilling effect, and would serve as another damaging blow to investigative journalism in the UK."

Thomas Hughes, Executive Director, ARTICLE 19:

"Encryption capabilities are fundamental to allow us to communicate freely and safely in an open and democratic society. Any discussions of a framework through which the security services can access our communications must be transparent. Knee-jerk political statements and rushed through deals are at best unhelpful at protecting our civil liberties and at worst a dangerous threat to them. The government risks eroding our freedoms at a time when it is alluding to a desire to protect them."