Data Privacy and Security

William Hague: "There can ultimately be no absolute right to privacy"

In the same week MPs voted overwhelmingly to approve the Investigatory Powers Bill (aka the “Snooper’s Charter”) Lord William Hague defended the bill and decried unbreakable encryption.

Speaking at the InfoSecurity conference in London this week, the former Foreign Secretary warned that people would turn against encryption in time, and instead called for partnerships between public and private sector to protect people and businesses.

“In a world where private information can quite often protect the tax payer or stop a multitude of crimes or save lives, in my view there can ultimately be no absolute right to privacy,” he said. “Each case that comes to light in tax evasion, gang brutality, modern slavery, terrorist attack, is cumulatively damaging to the case for unbreakable encryption.”

“If we were not able to gather intelligence effectively about organised crime or terrorist activity, restrictions on the liberty of our citizens in many other ways would have to be much more serious and Draconian.”


IP Bill is no “Snooper’s Charter”

Lord Hague spent much time defending the IP Bill, saying it is merely clarifying and consolidating the current laws and actually adds more “checks and balances” to current processes when it comes to intercepting communications.

“If people could see how that [the process for authorising communication interception] happens on a daily basis, the anxiety and hostility would be somewhat alleviated.”

He claimed the new bill adds a layer of judicial review to a process where all authorisation has to be given by the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary, or the Northern Ireland secretary and is accompanied by “voluminous legal advice”.

“People don't often hear what it’s like to actually make these decisions about intercepting communications. If people could see it in action they would see how ridiculous the idea of a “Snoopers' Charter” is.”


Proud of UK intelligence

Lord Hague also spent time defending the work of the UK’s intelligence agencies, going so far as to say when in office he had a German enigma machine on show to remind visitors of the country’s history and prowess in this field.

“[In government] you see in great detail the work of our intelligence agencies. Our security agencies are often publically attacked, they have few opportunities to defend themselves. If anything ever happens in the world that they didn't anticipate they are roundly condemned, but their successes are often not known about for decades and are often unsung, often unknown.”

“Any failure, by contrast, is a national headline. [Yet] they are packed with outstanding people, they are well-led, they include some of our finest public servants, and we could not live peacefully for a single day without the work of those agencies.”


A cyber apocalypse only prevented by partnerships

The Apple versus FBI case – where the former refused to unlock an iPhone for the latter - was a “genuine and understandable clash of principles” that’s “likely to happen again especially since not resolved in court”. But in a speech repeatedly calling for cooperation, he admitted this case is “Not representative of how government and companies have worked together in the past.”

Hague wasn’t shy in describing the threats and dangers from the world of cyber if there is no cooperation.  

“It’s a depressing fact that there are far more organisations and activities than the average citizen might suspect aimed at causing people in this country harm,” he said.

“Companies and Counties that don't successfully defend themselves; identities will be stolen, intellectual property will be taken by others, war planes will be outmanoeuvred, airspace will be invaded, financial institutions will be embarrassed, private information will be published, security agencies will be infiltrated, infrastructure will be made vulnerable, and so for the individual, for the company, for the government or nation, there is a need for both privacy and security, and...only a network of partnerships will succeed in protecting that privacy and security.”

“Some companies are extremely impressive in their information security centres, some companies are still barely keeping up with a threat of attack that is mutating every hour, and is designed not only to steal data but to damage industries or financial services through data loss or destruction.

“In an environment where such attacks are a weapon for people who regard themselves as disenfranchised against elites or corporations, we should probably expect further such attacks that are designed to ruin a financial institution and thereby cause severe loss of confidence in the global financial system. One bank anywhere losing all its data including its backup data could create a reaction that would trigger worldwide economic consequences.

“So while we shouldn't be alarmist about this, a bit more alarm in some board rooms would probably be appropriate.”


Also read:

InfoSec 2016: GDPR hangs heavy over Europe


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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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