When 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 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.
No 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.