Sustainable data services

Today’s spin development on the Investigatory Powers bill was in the Telegraph, stating that end-to-end encryption would be banned after all. One line from an anonymous Home Office spokesman struck me:

“That means ensuring that companies themselves can access the content of communications on their networks when presented with a warrant, as many of them already do for their own business purposes, for example to target advertising.”

One reading of this is that internet companies leave people no privacy anyway, so there’s no point complaining about intelligence service intrusion. I’ve heard that particular line before from the side of government agencies.

But there’s another way to look at this all. It’s not just end-to-end communication services that “have” customer’s data in such a way that they can’t actually get at it. It’s an entire fast-growing industry of “privacy enhancing technologies”. “Sustainable data services” you might even call them (see where this is going?) Cloud providers, genomic data analysers — all of them safeguarding people’s data that the UK government might at some point want to throw a warrant at. And there’s a history of using a generous definition of “communications services” if that delivers more surveillance data.

If the government can throw us three different lines of spin per day, I can indulge in a silly speculation. Here it comes. What if the UK government is intending to kill off those internet services that aim to use privacy as a selling point? Maybe Apple specifically, maybe the entire privacy enhancement sector. Makes no sense, whatsoever, does it?

Except … Same could have been said for the solar energy industry. A growing industry, good for the economy, good for the environment, good for the carbon targets – and still it got zapped, with companies closing down, jobs lost, and economic capital mindlessly destroyed. Best guess why? Vested interests behind the government. The oil industry and their fracking friends.

So if this government are prepared to sacrifice one healthy growing branch of the economy to satisfy the vested interests behind the screens, why not another? And we can speculate further about what these vested interests may be – the securocrats, or even those internet industries that have more or less given up on privacy.

Of course this is a silly speculation. Silly silly silly. Shouldn’t let myself get dragged into conspiracies.

But if the ban on end-to-end encryption remains on the table (see previous post on this blog), I still think the “privacy enhancing techniques” industry is at risk. The next line in the Home Office spokesman quote is

These companies’ reputations rest on their ability to protect their users’ data.

That’s so nearly right that it’s really wrong. It is the ability to protect their users’ data so well that even the companies themselves can’t get to them.