UK government in court to defend forced decryption law

UK government in court to defend forced decryption law

Two members of British Parliament on Thursday and Friday will challenge in court a U.K. surveillance law that requires Internet companies like Facebook and Google to decrypt user data at the government’s request.

The outcome could have ramifications on a similar debate in the U.S. in which the Obama administration is looking to also guarantee some form of access to digital data. Lawmakers and technologists have protested the move, arguing it will weaken encryption and expose users to hackers.


Prime Minister David Cameron last July pushed through the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (DRIP). Cameron accelerated the normal legislative timeline following a European Court of Justice ruling that abolished data retention requirements for European companies.

Cameron argued his bill simply allowed British intelligence agencies to maintain existing authorities. But several members of Parliament were irked by the prime minister’s use of emergency powers to promote his surveillance agenda.

“The government’s decision to use emergency powers to enable it to spy on citizens shows the rights of the individual need to be strengthened to ensure the state can’t act with impunity,” Tom Watson, a member of the Labor Party, said in a statement.

Watson brought the case with David Davis, a member of the Conservative Party. They believe the bill violates the right to respect for private and family life, as outlined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. They also think it runs afoul of the right to the protection of personal data detailed in the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The human rights advocate Liberty will argue on behalf of the lawmakers.

“The executive dominance of Parliament in rushing through this legislation — using a wholly fabricated ‘emergency’ — made a mockery of parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law, and showed a staggering disregard for the entire population’s right to privacy,” said Emma Norton, legal officer for Liberty, in a statement.

Cameron has urged President Obama to help him pressure companies to provide governments with access to user data and social media messages.

Although Obama supports some type of guaranteed access — often called a “back door” — the American leader has not moved as swiftly as his British counterpart and has yet to offer a similar legislative proposal.