Another tech firm says it has quit the UK over government internet surveillance plans

GuardsmanWhen British technology firm ind.ie announced it was quitting the UK because of the government's plans to widen mass internet surveillance through a Snooper's charter, and to block messaging services unless they have a government backdoor, I predicted that they weren't going to the be the last.

Turns out I was right.

Eris Industries says it has told its staff to leave the country and, at least temporarily, moved its headquarters to New York.

The firm says it will only come back if the Communications Data Bill (the UK government's preferred name for the Snooper's Charter) has its offending legislation amended.

A blog post by Eris Industries' COO Preston Byrne, explains the company's position - it simply cannot engage in its business if it is forced to incorporate cryptographic backdoors that can be accessed by MI5 and GCHQ:

Eris statement

Eris Industries’ business is industrial cryptography. This legislation, if passed, is likely to prevent our technology’s use in myriad industrial applications, including financial services, which need reliable, open-source cryptography desperately if they are to stay competitive in a digital age.

The surveillance powers the government is asking Parliament to pass are completely unnecessary and, more often than not, are justified by statistics which have little basis in fact and which the Government appears to draw from thin air.

If there were any indication that the terrorists in the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, which precipitated the Government’s first attempt to introduce this bill this year, or indeed those in 9/11, had used encryption to carry out their attacks, which they did not, maybe we would agree with the Government’s proposals. The fact is, however, that cryptography overwhelmingly protects legal businesses and ordinary people, not criminals and terrorists, from harm. Strong cryptography should therefore remain entirely free and legal.

If this Bill is passed into law, we are likely to see a mass exodus of tech companies and financial services firms alike from the United Kingdom. We are happy to lead by example.

The announcement by the company comes days after the UK government announced plans in the Queen's Speech to introduce a beefed-up version of the Snooper's Charter, with more wide-ranging powers than previously expected.

Eris Industries and ind.ie are far from alone in having deep concerns about the implications of the Snooper's Charter.

Tim Berners-LeeNo less a figure than Sir Tim Berners-Lee, for instance, says that Britain has "lost the moral leadership" on privacy and surveillance.

"The discussion [in the Queen’s Speech] of increased monitoring powers is something which is a red flag... this discussion is a global one, it’s a big one, it’s something that people are very engaged with, they think it’s very important, and they’re right, because it is very important for democracy, and it’s very important for business.", Berners-Lee told The Guardian.

Earlier this year, I appeared on BBC Radio Five, having a "lively debate" with Preston Byrne and Professor Anthony Glees, who heads the University of Buckingham's Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, over David Cameron’s plans for a surveillance backdoor.

I think it's fair to say that Preston and I couldn't come to agreement with Professor Glees, who seemed to poo-poo the idea that firms might not look kindly on having offices in the UK if their communications could not be secured.

Check it out now: Listen to this BBC radio punch-up over David Cameron’s surveillance backdoor.

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5 Responses

  1. Coyote

    June 1, 2015 at 3:52 am #

    "The discussion [in the Queen’s Speech] of increased monitoring powers is something which is a red flag… "

    Love it. I would love it even if it wasn't a pun[1].

    Regardless of that, the issue is how far the governments will go in order to accomplish whatever their goals are (which isn't what they claim), not necessarily what they do (they spy on far more than who they claim they need to spy on). The intent behind it is what matters. The claim that it is to stop terrorists is itself a lie and it always has been (the ideal is old too, and you don't need mass destruction to terrorise a community) – it is about power, control, etc. and the reasons they cite are merely excuses: the fact it is known they won't stop with this accomplished (because after all, they haven't done this before or anything similar… and they won't do it again, either, right?) and they keep asking for more (they are good at ensuring history indeed repeats itself), means that their intent isn't what they claim. So what is their intent? They refuse to acknowledge the truth here. That's ironically enough like what encryption can allow, isn't it ? It might mean something important but it isn't what it seems. Yet they want to stop it even though they are doing the exact same thing.

    Even if they did admit it, though, the fact is encryption is important for everyone including themselves and their families. Therein lies the problem at last – regardless of what they claim, regardless of how they use it in the end, they are willingly risking others safety for their own gains. That's what they do best – some times it is unwittingly but far too often by design (like it is here).

    [1] Red indeed, red that many associate as evil. That itself is a very controversial topic (with both for and against – mostly black or white and little to no grey) and evil is a very subjective word but the Stasi police wore red and their spying is well known. All things considered…if you follow the logic that anything 'red' must be evil then is anything that is well known that they do also evil? If you follow that logical fallacy it makes this comparison and the idea of a red flag quite interesting yet also a convenient coincidence.

  2. Jim

    June 1, 2015 at 7:56 am #

    Hmmm, I'm not sure moving their headquarters to the USA will actually change much … Scandinavia seems to be a better choice.

    • Daniel C in reply to Jim.

      June 3, 2015 at 2:42 pm #

      Switzerland, Iceland and Sweden seem to have good privacy laws. I am using Ghostmail for encrypted e-mails. Their servers are located in an ultra-secure bunker, buried deep inside the White Mountains in Stockholm.

  3. Dave Howe

    June 1, 2015 at 11:06 am #

    Am I the only one who sees the irony of moving to New York, with it's NSA NSLs?

  4. 0z_

    June 2, 2015 at 3:07 pm #

    I understand why any company, especially tech companies developing secure communication systems, would consider backdoors to be a very bad idea. It's no different than buying the best home security system money can buy, and then leaving the alarm system's PIN and a key under an obviously fake rock next to your door. That, and the secrets your average company keeps aren't related to terrorism, it's related to intellectual property. There would be nothing stopping a corrupt government employee from handing either the keys to the backdoor or sensitive business intel over to a rival company or other 'interested parties'.

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