Apple claims UK government wants the power to veto security updates worldwide — what you need to know

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The U.K. government, in its never-ending quest to try and prove it can push tech companies around just as easily as the EU, might be trying to cause problems with Apple security updates. In fact, Apple has accused Britain of trying to give itself veto powers over new features and updates.

But not just in the U.K. Apparently the British government seems to think it’s important enough to try and tell Apple (and others) whether it can release those updates in other countries as well.

A bunch of amendments to the U.K.’s Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) have been proposed. One of those amendments says that tech companies like Apple would have to “notify UK officials of any updates they planned to make that could restrict the UK government's access to this data, including any updates impacting users outside the UK.” 

The U.K. government’s justification for this is that amendments will ensure the IPA keeps up with new technology and are designed to help fight “terrorists, hostile state actors, child abusers and criminal gangs”. So all the usual justifications that get rolled out when governments want to increase mass surveillance and overextend their reach.

The government claims that this won’t offer any veto powers, only that Apple and others will need to inform the Home Office when those updates are coming. Apple has refuted this, claiming that the move could see the U.K. “secretly veto new user protections globally preventing us from ever offering them to customers." 

So basically the government is demanding the right to continue spying on its citizens. That’s a pretty common occurrence, and not restricted to the U.K. But this sounds like the U.K. government wants unrestricted access to data from non-U.K. residents as well. Which would seem daring if it wasn’t such a laughably stupid demand to make.

I can totally see China or the United States trying to push for that sort of access, and failing miserably after a bunch of pushback from Apple. But the U.K.? These days that’s like a scrawny ten-year-old demanding you hand over your phone “or else”.

Apple has criticized the move, claiming that it would give the U.K. “unprecedented power”. In a statement the company said, "Protecting our users’ privacy and the security of their data is at the very heart of everything we do at Apple. We’re deeply concerned that the proposed amendments [to the IPA] now before Parliament place users' privacy and security at risk."

Which is a fair concern, because that’s exactly what it seems to be happening. The fact it’s an amendment to the Investigatory Powers Act, a law specifically designed to make it easier to spy on private communications, is pretty telling. 

I don’t know about you, but I trust Apple on this a lot more than I trust my own government. Considering the civil liberties groups like Big Brother Watch, Liberty, Open Rights Group and Privacy International are also against the changes suggests Apple may be in the right on this one. And since Apple has already threatened to pull products out of the U.K. in response to laws that had the potential to compromise its security, I can certainly see this card being played again.

The IPA Amendments Act isn’t law yet. Like all laws it has to go through Britain's House of Commons before it can actually take effect. The wheels of politics do take their time, after all. Whether the vote will pass or not isn’t clear, especially since there will be a U.K. General Election before the end of the year — which could completely change the layout of parliament and what votes could be cast.

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.

  • Latestepha
    Seems like quite a debate brewing! I can understand why Apple wants to maintain its autonomy over software updates, especially for security reasons. It's a delicate balance between government oversight and tech innovation. Speaking of security, it's always a priority in today's digital age. For more solutions in this realm, you might want to check out Take care!