Concerns from technology firms that the UK government wants to weaken encryption or install 'backdoor' access to software are unfounded, according to UK home secretary Theresa May.
"There has been some commentary which has not accurately reflected what we are intending to do in the bill," May said while giving evidence to the Select Committee set up to scrutinise the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill.
"We believe encryption is important [and] we are not proposing to make any changes in relation to the position on encryption."
Despite these claims, the Investigatory Powers Bill, branded the Snoopers' Charter by critics, contains proposals that would allow police and intelligence agencies to "reduce electronic protection", the definition of which still lacks clarity.
May somewhat skirted the issue when pressed on the topic of strong encryption by the committee, and how it is used by technology firms such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook to protect customer communications.
"Where we are lawfully serving a warrant on a provider ... they are required to provide certain information to the authorities. The company should take reasonable steps to ensure they are able comply with the warrant. That is the position today and it will be the same tomorrow under the new legislation," she said.
However, this is unlikely to allay the fears of technology firms that offer end-to-end messaging applications such as iMessage or WhatsApp. These systems use strong encryption that even the companies are unable to decipher.
This is unacceptable, according to May. "Under this legislation when a warrant is served they will be expected to take responsible steps to comply," she repeated.
The bill, which would strengthen the surveillance and data interception powers available to the police and intelligence agencies, contains proposals for bulk data collection, computer hacking and the mass retention of internet communication records (ICRs).
However, the home secretary's appearance in Parliament follows a backlash from technology firms operating in the UK that deem the bill's proposals invasive and overreaching.
Apple has raised concerns about the government seeking to weaken encryption, Mozilla has branded the bill "broad and dangerous", while techUK, which represents over 850 tech companies, has publicly criticised the collection of ICRs.
Most recently, technology companies including Microsoft, Google and Facebook took a more coordinated approach, stating in a joint written submission that the bill will have "far-reaching implications" for customers in the UK.
May has been a long-time advocate of increased surveillance powers and has faced strong opposition from privacy campaigners and civil right groups.
The Home Office was served with a Freedom of Information request in early November asking for the publication of May's email and telephone metadata, including the "date, time and recipient" of every email, phone call, Skype call and website visited in October and November.
The Home Office refused the request on 16 December, describing it as "vexatious".
"We have decided that your request is vexatious because it places an unreasonable burden on the department, because it has adopted a scattergun approach and seems solely designed for the purpose of ‘fishing' for information without any idea of what might be revealed," stated the written response.
The full cost of the extended collection and storage of ICRs has yet to be determined, but initial estimates from the Home Office suggest that it will cost UK taxpayers £174m over the next 10 years.
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