US Tech Giants Will Find UK Far Tougher After Election

Whatever happens today in the UK election, the American tech giants will find it tougher going from tomorrow. The likelihood is that even though the polls have narrowed after a poor showing from Theresa May, the Conservatives will hold onto power. 

The barrage that Apple, Google, YouTube and Twitter, to name just a few, have been getting from the current Prime Minister is likely to carry on. The reason? London and Manchester have seen three terror attacks between them in the past couple of months, and the nation is currently on tenderhooks praying that Election Day passes off without incident. The other reason? It's pretty easy to have a go at the social and messaging giants for allowing extremism to grow unchecked.

The reality is, of course, that the tech giants are subsumed by vast amounts of data and are struggling to keep up with the demand to verify that content is safe. That doesn't let them off the hook because they do, of course, have to take responsibility for what's published on their sites, particularly as they monetise it. You can't have your proverbial cake and eat it. But still, with the huge volume of content being refreshed every millisecond, it's a Herculean task.

The social giants claim they are taking down content as soon as they are alerted to it, but this still hasn't stopped the main political parties from dropping YouTube on Tuesday for election ads after The Times revealed they had inadvertently placed messages alongside extremist content.

The next phase, I predict, will be more around messaging, and that's why we have seen Tim Cook at Apple make it clear the iPhone maker and iMessage provider that it has been helping the UK government, when asked. 

It's clear that people plotting attacks are very unlikely to put their plans on Facebook or Twitter. Those channels are for propaganda, alongside YouTube. They can be taken down fairly easily after they have been spotted. 

Where the real friction lies is in encrypted messages. At the moment there are long delays in trying to get an American tech giant to decrypt messages because they follow US procedures.

The Conservative manifesto, written before the recent terror atrocities, backs up the ongoing accepted opinion that governments are going to end trying to agree a quicker method for allowing law enforcement to read messages between suspected terror accomplices. 

The BBC carries an interesting look at the issues, and believes the government is working on legislation that will compel a messaging company to allow real-time interception of messages. The blog author poses the obvious question -- how can this be done without disabling encryption at both ends of the conversation? Plus, what if criminals simply turn to messaging services hosted in regions not covered by a decryption agreement?

Tech issues aside, the US tech giants will find they are dealing with a far stronger arm from tomorrow. The mood has changed. The Westminster and London Bridge attacks and the Manchester Arena suicide bomber have tipped the balance.

It reminds me of a conversation with the former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden. He predicted the day would come when the balance between law enforcement and privacy would tip in favour of more checks. Just like at airports, he mentioned, we're used to having our bags checked. While we wouldn't want everyone under constant suspicion online, we will come to a point where we accept the state can look into online messages and be a little less guarded about individual rights.

The US tech giants have been served notice in the past two months that that time is upon us.

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