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After Apple's objections, UK removes encryption backdoors from Investigatory Powers Bill before passing

UK House of Commons | Source: UK Parliament

The U.K. House of Commons has passed a limited version of its Investigatory Powers Bill after removing controversial elements that would have demanded that manufacturers like Apple to weaken or build backdoors into their encryption products.

According to report by Bloomberg, the bill passed despite some remaining opposition over concerns related to privacy and civil rights. The law grants spy agencies the power to continue bulk surveillance and the use of malware to break into the devices of suspected criminals.

However, the most objectionable components of the bill— related to proposals that would have weakened encryption— were stripped following intense criticism from civil liberties groups and technology companies.

Apple led a critical challenge of the legislation last winter, arguing in an eight page letter to the U.K parliamentary committee that "the creation of back doors and intercept capabilities would weaken the protections built into Apple products and endanger all our customers."

Apple's chief executive Tim Cook warned of "dire consequences" if the law passed with language weakening device encryption.

While noting that it cooperates with the U.K. and law enforcement to "catch criminals and save lives," Apple insisted that legal efforts to weaken device encryption on iPhones, iPads and Macs would fail to stop criminals seeking to hide, because those individuals could simply continue using other encryption technologies that are freely available to anyone.

"There are hundreds of products that use encryption to protect user data, many of them open-source and beyond the regulation of any one government," Apple's letter stated. "By mandating weakened encryption in Apple products, this bill will put law-abiding citizens at risk, not the criminals, hackers and terrorists who will continue having access to encryption."

Apple's global fight against overreaching governments

Cook took the same stance in the United States, where he maintained a very public stand against efforts by the Federal Bureau of Investigations to use the courts to require the company to develop a broken version of iOS that would enable law enforcement to bypass a variety of security mechanisms in order to hammer away at encrypted iPhones.

The FBI later withdrew its motions to force Apple to unlock devices related to a New York drug-related case as well as developing software to break into a company device assigned to dead terrorist shooter in San Bernardino.

In parallel, encryption-weakening legislation proposed in the U.S. Congress was withdrawn this spring after political support evaporated as the public increasingly sided with Apple's stance on privacy and civil rights.

In April, Apple's general counsel Bruce Sewell testified at a hearing of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce that the company has twice refused demands from Chinese authorities to turn over source code over the past two years.

The testimony came in response to unsupported accusations by Captain Charles Cohen, a state law enforcement official from Indiana, who suggested that Apple hands over data to the Chinese government but was simply unwilling to help U.S. law enforcement access private data.

Representative Anna Eshoo, a Democrat from California, refuted the Captain's suggestion and forced Cohen to admit that his only source of information was media reports.

A variety of other technology companies, including Facebook, Google's Alphabet, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo have joined Apple in lobbying against legislation that could undermine customers' faith in their products and brands.