The U.K. Government Is Dangerously Close to Eroding Encryption and Normalizing Mass Surveillance
The Online Safety Bill, now at the final stage before passage in the House of Lords, gives the British government the ability to force backdoors into messaging services. No amendments have been accepted that would mitigate the bill’s most dangerous elements.
"If it passes, the Online Safety Bill will be a huge step backwards for global privacy, and democracy itself. Requiring government-approved software in peoples’ messaging services is an awful precedent. If the Online Safety Bill becomes British law, the damage it causes won’t stop at the borders of the U.K," the EFF wrote.
The bill "would require content filtering, as well as age checks to access erotic content. It also requires detailed reports about online activity to be sent to the government."
"The U.K. government wants to grant itself the right to scan every message online for content related to child abuse or terrorism—and says it will still, somehow, magically, protect peoples’ privacy. That’s simply impossible. U.K. civil society groups have condemned the bill, as have technical experts and human rights groups around the world."
The companies that provide encrypted messaging - such as WhatsApp, Signal, and the UK-based Element - have also explained the bill’s danger. Apple joined this group in June, stating publicly that the bill threatens encryption and “could put U.K. citizens at greater risk.”
"In response to this outpouring of resistance, the U.K. government’s response has been to wave its hands and deny reality."
"In a response letter to the House of Lords seen by EFF, the U.K.’s Minister for Culture, Media and Sport simply re-hashes an imaginary world in which messages can be scanned while user privacy is maintained."
"We expect the industry to use its extensive expertise and resources to innovate and build robust solutions for individual platforms/services that ensure both privacy and child safety by preventing child abuse content from being freely shared on public and private channels," the Minister wrote.
"It’s a remarkable failure that the House of Lords has not even taken up a serious debate over protecting encryption and privacy, despite ample time to review every every section of the bill."
"U.K. lawmakers still have a chance to stop their nation from taking this shameful leap forward towards mass surveillance. End-to-end encryption was not fully considered and voted on during either committee or report stage in the House of Lords. The Lords can still add a simple amendment that would protect private messaging, and specify that end-to-end encryption won’t be weakened or removed."