Apple warns UK surveillance bill would 'spark serious international conflicts'

Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo have also formally opposed the bill, a report says.

(Image: CNET/CBS Interactive)

Apple has formally opposed the UK's draft surveillance bill, which will force some companies operating in the UK to weaken or abandon encryption.

Much of the draft Investigatory Powers Bill (DRIPA), unveiled last month, rewrites and clarifies existing laws that explicitly allow the UK government to continue carrying out the surveillance operations in progress for the past decade, such as phone hacking and installing malware on target devices. But one key element of the law has proven controversial: forcing tech companies to "remove any encryption" when demanded by authorities.


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The iPhone and iPad maker submitted an eight-page letter Monday, the last day in which the UK's parliamentary subcommittee was accepting outside written evidence, saying that the bill "threatens to hurt law-abiding citizens in its effort to combat the few bad actors who have a variety of ways to carry out their attacks."

"The creation of backdoors and intercept capabilities would weaken the protections built into Apple products and endanger all our customers. A key left under the doormat would not just be there for the good guys. The bad guys would find it too," the letter read.

The letter also hinted that backdoors in encryption would be unfeasible, while adding that any action taken by the UK government would "force non-UK companies to... take actions that violate the laws of their home countries," which would "spark serious international conflicts."

Another cause for concern on one of the points raised was that the bill, if it becomes law, could allow the UK government to effectively demand that Apple hack into its own devices, by either cracking or removing encryption.

"[The bill] would also likely be the catalyst for other countries to enact similar laws, paralysing multinational corporations under the weight of what could be dozens or hundreds of contradictory country-specific laws," the letter adds.

Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Yahoo have also reportedly submitted evidence to the committee, according to the BBC, but their contributions were not immediately released.

Speaking to the broadcaster, Microsoft said: "The legislation must avoid conflicts with the laws of other nations and contribute to a system where like-minded governments work together, not in competition, to keep people more secure."

Chief executive Tim Cook previously spoke out against the draft bill earlier this year, warning of "dire consequences" if the bill becomes law.

But the company also faces potential trouble in the future at home. With the US government taking a similar anti-encryption (or "pro-backdoor") approach to security, Apple could face an action similar to the one taken by the Justice Dept. in 2008 against Yahoo when it refused to participate in the PRISM surveillance program.

Yahoo was threatened with unimaginable fines for not complying with the NSA's PRISM program. It eventually capitulated under the government pressure.