Messaging Services Raise Concerns Over Online Safety Bill

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By Jordan Martinez

WhatsApp, Signal, and other messaging platforms have called on the government to reconsider the Online Safety Bill (OSB), fearing it may compromise end-to-end encryption.

End-to-End Encryption at Stake

The companies worry that the bill could weaken end-to-end encryption, which ensures that messages can only be read by the sender and recipient’s devices, and nowhere else.

Government’s Stance on Privacy and Child Safety

Ministers have expressed their desire for regulators to request platforms to monitor users in order to eliminate child abuse content. The government believes it is possible to maintain both privacy and child safety.

Open Letter Against Weakening Encryption

In an open letter, operators of encrypted messaging apps argue that weakening encryption and implementing mass surveillance is not the solution. The letter is signed by representatives from Element, Oxen Privacy Tech Foundation, Signal, Threema, Viber, WhatsApp, and Wire.

Potential Consequences of the Online Safety Bill

The letter claims that the current form of the OSB could lead to indiscriminate surveillance of personal messages and may inspire hostile governments to create similar laws.

Companies Threaten to Leave the UK or Block Services

Some companies, such as WhatsApp, Signal, and Threema, have indicated that they would rather cease operations in the UK or block their services than weaken encrypted messaging.

Email Services Exemption and Proton’s Concerns

While email services are exempt from the bill, Proton, a Europe-based company known for its encrypted email service, has expressed concerns that some of its features might fall within the scope of the OSB.

Liberal Democrat Amendment and Ofcom’s Code of Practice

Lord Clement-Jones, Liberal Democrat digital-economy spokesman, supports an amendment to the bill and expects Ofcom to issue a code of practice outlining its intended use of the law.

Technical Challenges and a ‘British Internet’

The letter argues that global providers of end-to-end encrypted services cannot weaken their products to accommodate individual governments and that a UK-specific version of end-to-end encryption is unfeasible.

Prime Minister’s Spokesperson and Children’s Charities Respond

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson stated that powers to scan encrypted messages would only apply when no less intrusive measures could reduce child abuse content. Meanwhile, children’s charities argue that messaging companies can do more to prevent misuse of their platforms.

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