UK law could ban Apple security updates across the world in an 'unprecedented overreach'

A hacker in a Guy Fawkes mask using an Apple MacBook.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Apple is no stranger to controversy, especially involving government bodies. But a new proposal could aim to be “unprecedented” in its reach over the tech giant.

Several amendments to the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) have been proposed, one that would require Apple (and any other company) to “notify UK officials of any updates they planned to make that could restrict the UK government's access to this data, including any updates impacting users outside the UK,” according to Ars Technica. Basically, if a security or privacy update doesn’t give the UK government unrestricted access to user data, it can veto that update. And this goes for non-UK consumers as well as UK ones.

Apple has deeply criticized the move, noting that it would give the UK unprecedented power and would allow it to veto privacy and security updates. In a statement from Apple, the company said: “We’re deeply concerned the proposed amendments [to the IPA] now before Parliament place users' privacy and security at risk."

Despite Apple’s misgivings about the amendments, the UK has defended its proposals, stating that they’re meant to fight against “hostile activity by states” as well as “terrorists and criminal groups.” The UK also remarked that it needed to apply “world-leading safeguards consistent with the UK’s democratic values,” which seems to explain why these proposals also affect non-UK countries as well.

The proposal must first pass the House of Commons before reaching the House of Lords. The House of Lords cannot directly oppose new legislation, but it can certainly delay the process and force compromise before it passes.

Apple is on the right side of history

It’s an interesting situation currently unfolding between the UK and Apple, one that is surprisingly complex. On one hand, it would almost be natural to support restrictive legislation against a corporation, especially one as wealthy and powerful as Apple. But it seems that Apple may have a point this time around.

The UK is asserting that these amendments are purely for the safety of users not only in the UK but across the world. However, allowing the UK to pass these into law would make for a significant increase in how much control the government has over corporations and especially the data of average citizens being collected and stored. And the UK isn’t asking Apple to better its security or to control how much data the company collects, but simply wants access to that data for itself.

The BBC reported that several civil liberties groups are siding with Apple, including Big Brother Watch, Liberty, Open Rights Group, and Privacy International. In a joint statement from a conference between these groups, the law amendment was characterized as one “effectively transforming private companies into arms of the surveillance state and eroding the security of devices and the internet.”

We'll have to see how this whole situation unfolds.

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Allisa James
Computing Staff Writer

Named by the CTA as a CES 2023 Media Trailblazer, Allisa is a Computing Staff Writer who covers breaking news and rumors in the computing industry, as well as reviews, hands-on previews, featured articles, and the latest deals and trends. In her spare time you can find her chatting it up on her two podcasts, Megaten Marathon and Combo Chain, as well as playing any JRPGs she can get her hands on.