Tech industry wants stability from Theresa May

Tech industry wants stability from Theresa May

Theresa May, having won the Conservative Party leadership contest, has now become prime minister of the UK, after David Cameron stepped down. 

If it was someone else, it may be too early to speculate what this means for the tech sector in the UK, but as Home Secretary, May has made many decisions and expressed many views which have had significant effect on the tech industry.

Under May, the Home Office allowed British security services — MI5, MI6, GCHQ and so on — to collect phone and other data on citizens without their knowledge let alone permission.

May introduced the Investigatory Powers Bill, a controversial piece of legislation which the government says will “modernise the law on communications data”.

Critics of the bill call it a “snooper’s charter” which will give the authorities too much power to pry into people’s lives whether they have done or are likely to do anything wrong or not. Worse still, the data could be shared with criminals or unscrupulous types, legitimately or inadvertently.

Parts of the Investigatory Powers Bill is currently undergoing parliamentary scrutiny while other parts have already come into effect.

Writing for TheInquirer.net, Dave Neal says May becoming prime minister is “a major blow for privacy”.

Neal quotes Loz Kay, co-founder of the Open Intelligence think tank, who says: “Prime minister May is bad news for technology, business and rights in the UK.”

At the time of the introduction of the Investigatory Powers Bill, May said: “This important piece of legislation will provide a new framework to govern the use and oversight of investigatory powers by law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies.

“The enhanced privacy safeguards, which are at the heart of the Bill, protect not only sensitive professions but the public at large.”

Whether or not the bill will be modified in light of the end-to-end encryption being introduced by tech companies is unclear, as is the question of whether tech companies would be legally obliged to share data they have about their customers.

From the point of view of business people, May has not really been prominent in their thinking. Now that she is the prime minister-designate, some tech leaders have express cautious optimism.

CityAM.com quotes Gerard Grech, Tech City boss, as saying that he welcomes any political decision that “brings business certainty”, and adding that the tech sector has had “unparalleled levels of support from Government” over the past few years.

Grech points out that May helped introduce the Tech Nation Visa scheme, which made it easier to hire top talent from abroad.

But on the other side, there are concerns, such as the possibility that employing tech professionals from across the European Union will become more difficult as a result of Britain’s decision to leave the EU.

In comments to Alphr.com, Josephine Goube, of tech talent network Yborder, says May has already caused damage to employment in the UK tech sector.

“Theresa May has had a poor record of helping foreign talent stay in London,” Goube says, adding: “If she does not agree with freedom of movement, the UK won’t be able to benefit from the single market. That is likely to be the case.”