David Cameron Encryption Ban
David Cameron's call for a ban on end-to-end encryption appears to be nothing more than a cynical attempt to use the fear generated by the Charlie Hebdo massacre to push through draconian laws to curb privacy Reuters

We were expecting it but it doesn't make it any easier. Less than a week after winning the general election, David Cameron announced controversial plans to fast-track new powers to tackle radicalisation that were previously blocked by the Liberal Democrats.

We can now be absolutely certain; the UK government is also going to revive its plans for the Communications Data Bill (or Snoopers' Charter as it is known by most). The bill first proposed in 2013 was also blocked after opposition from within the coalition. Now that opposition's gone, there's nothing to stand in the government's way.

Let's make no mistake about it: the bill is bad, and for two main reasons.

Firstly, it's going to put a huge brake on the UK technology industry (which is pretty ironic given the support business leaders gave the Tories). We've already heard stories about UK start-ups that are supposed to be the engine of UK economic recovery threatening to the leave the country.

Clearly, they're not impressed by the idea of having to build in backdoors for security services that would make their users vulnerable. Indeed, should the bill pass – which it will – why would anyone buy a security or security-reliant products from a UK firm in the future? And then there's the cloud industry, another growth area. What's the first question any customer is going to ask of a facility based on UK soil?

Secondly, there's the not-so-small issue of civil liberties. As Privacy International's legal director Carly Nyst eloquently put it, the move will "sacrifice the civil liberties of Britons everywhere on the altar of national security". I would go even further. Mass surveillance and removing privacy rights are tools normally only used in dictatorships. If the UK is to go down this road, it is setting a poor example to the world and showing it is not above the regimes and belief systems it seeks to oppose.

Put together, the commercial and reputational impact that the UK suffer could be immense. The question is – what's anyone going to do about it?

Don't trust companies to balance this out – they're only in it for themselves, as was made hugely evident by Facebook's decision that its worldwide internet access project, Internet.org, is not going to support encrypted traffic.

Considering one of the main aims of Internet.org is to offer free basic internet services to people who can't afford it, this is a pretty outrageous move. It's essentially stating that if you can't pay for internet services, you don't deserve privacy.

People rise up – this is your fight

What's perhaps most shocking about the move towards more anti-privacy measures from both government and business is that the general public don't seem to care.

The UK election told us that. David Cameron said he would revive a ban on encryption back in January, but this was hardly an issue during the campaign and it seems to have had very little impact on the result of the election.

This general state of apathy was also recently confirmed by the annual Adults' media use and attitudes report by Ofcom. The report said UK internet users are more likely now than in 2013 to say they don't read website terms and conditions or privacy statements at all. Furthermore, seven in 10 say they are happy to provide personal information online to companies as long as they get what they want (ie content or services they perceive to be free).

So in the face such attitudes, what can we do? For a start, companies can continue with their threats to leave the country. If some of the hottest start-ups in the UK start go elsewhere, that will create headlines the government really doesn't want to see (especially as it tries to portray itself as a champion of small businesses). It will also tell that the public that something serious is happening here.

But perhaps more constructively, and better for the UK economy, there also needs to be a concerted effort bring down the cost and complexity of encryption. As Netflix explained when it made its encryption announcement, it's currently an expensive business due to the need to get the right security certificates, optimise software and hardware and to get the higher computing power needed.

To counter this – and to make sure cost is never an excuse – we need something akin to the Let's Encrypt project run by the US non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation, a UK version that aims to cut through the current complexity and bureaucracy inhibiting encryption's adoption and make it simple and seamless to deploy.

This kind of initiative, which could be great for UK business, and attract new business to the country, is never going to be led by the government or big players. The smaller players, the innovators and entrepreneurs, need to band together and start making change happen. It's a more positive option than simply leaving.

Let's encrypt

Finally, this same group must take responsibility of finding ways to show consumers why they should care about privacy.

So far, the industry hasn't done a good enough job of making the conversation understandable or showing everyday people how these issues affect them directly. As I've said, this is not going to come from government or big business – it's not in their interests – so the wider technology community needs to come together to create a more powerful and simplified voice against surveillance and repression of digital rights. Digital Rights For Dummies, anyone?

If this happens, we might make the internet and privacy a more prevalent issue at the next election. At the very least, we should hope that the next time startups are asked for a pledge of support by a candidate party, they may just consider the potential commercial impact of anti-privacy measures on their businesses more carefully.

Rafael Laguna is CEO and co-founder of German web-based collaboration company Open-Xchange.