I can deal with this in fairly short order. The Scottish National party tabled an amendment to leave out the clause, which places a duty on telecoms operators to assist with the implementation of equipment interference warrants. We agree with those in the industry who are rightly concerned about being forced by the state to engage in the legal hacking of customers and other individuals and groups.
The Bill defines a telecoms operator as
“a person who…offers or provides a telecommunications service to persons in the United Kingdom, or…controls or provides a telecommunication system which is (wholly or partly)…in the United Kingdom, or…controlled from the United Kingdom.”
That flexible and all-encompassing definition means that not only online companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox and Yahoo!, but private offices, businesses, law firms, the networks of Departments such as the NHS and institutional networks such as those of universities would be forced to comply with the Government’s instructions to interfere with or hack the communications of an individual or group. That was confirmed by the Home Secretary in her evidence to the Joint Committee that scrutinised the draft Bill. That power will place those companies, whose services most, if not all, of our constituents use, in a deeply unsettling and invidious position.
I am not convinced that any of our constituents would be pleased to hear that we were passing legislation that would allow their email accounts or Facebook pages to engage in illegal hacking on behalf of the state. The extraordinarily expansive power that the clause gives the Government will force companies to engage in highly controversial work on their behalf, which will no doubt be in conflict with the interests of cybersecurity and product security that the companies work hard to innovate in, protect and extend. Forcing these companies to engage in legal hacking could seriously harm their business and operations. It will also lead to some of their customers and users losing trust in their businesses. I am not surprised that companies have long expressed deep concern about the powers laid out in the clause, as it is in direct conflict with their business interests. For those reasons, the SNP would like to see the clause deleted from the Bill.