Snoopers' Charter 'puts UK tech firms at risk'

A probe into the IT aspects of the Snoopers’ Charter has warned of “many unintended consequences” which could put the UK’s tech companies at a disadvantage.

The cost of complying with the charter (formally known as the Investigatory Powers Bill) as IT keeps evolving is among the biggest concerns, says the Commons Science and Technology Committee.

The committee wants the government to ‘fully meet’ the costs to firms of them having to put into place measures in the bill which, broadly, requires ISPs to store people’s internet records.

The government says the only additional costs to ‘Communications Service Providers’ will arise from them having to provide storage for the records - estimated to be £174million.

When presented with this figure, the “technical community” at firms due to be affected by the bill responded with “uncertainty” on whether the estimate covers “all the associated costs.”

BT questioned the basis on which the figure was drawn up; the ISPA suggested it was not enough to cover all ISPs and others said it depended if the Home Secretary would intervene.

But Theresa May seems “reluctant” to commit to fully compensating firms for costs the bill will impose, said the committee, despite ‘implementation-related’ costs being met to date.

She said: “The draft bill maintains the position that CSPs should receive an appropriate contribution in respect of their costs in complying with the legislation.”

Small ISPs told the committee that they’d want more than “an appropriate contribution” – which would be towards the costs of the bill’s obligations on both data and interception.

They fear they could face a retention notice which might “require ‘deep packet inspection’ to produce the ICR [Internet Connection Record], and which might have significant cost”.

Similarly, technologies designed to allow the categorisation of internet data so that only metadata can be extracted are, “extremely expensive”, ISP Exa Networks told the committee.

Nicola Blackwood MP, committee chair said: “We need our security services to be able to do their job…but as legislators we need to be careful not to inadvertently disadvantage the UK's rapidly growing tech sector.”

Pointing to the costs of adopting the legislation (a total of £247m according to the government or £2bn according to The Register), Ms Blackwood also said: “There are good grounds to believe that without further refinement [to the bill], there could be many unintended consequences for commerce”.

In its report, the committee concluded by telling the government that it is “essential” it becomes “more explicit about the obligations it will and will not be placing on industry as a result of this legislation.”

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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