Messaging apps oppose new UK bill that would seek to monitor platforms

The bill wants to scan the apps for child pornography.
Loukia Papadopoulos


WhatsApp, Signal and other messaging services have come out against the UK’s new Online Safety Bill (OSB) stating they are concerned that the regulation could undermine end-to-end encryption and meddle with users’ privacy.

This is according to a report by the BBC published on Tuesday.

The bill aims to have the platforms monitor users, to detect and persecute potential child abuse images.

"We support strong encryption," a government official said, "but this cannot come at the cost of public safety.

"Tech companies have a moral duty to ensure they are not blinding themselves and law enforcement to the unprecedented levels of child sexual abuse on their platforms.

"The Online Safety Bill in no way represents a ban on end-to-end encryption, nor will it require services to weaken encryption."

Worried platforms

However this did not soothe the platforms who released an open letter on Tuesday stating that "weakening encryption, undermining privacy and introducing the mass surveillance of people's private communications is not the way forward."

The letter went on to say that the OSB opens the door to "routine, general and indiscriminate surveillance" of personal messages and risks "emboldening hostile governments who may seek to draft copycat laws.”

It also tackled the UK government’s assertion that technological ways can be found to scan messages without undermining the privacy of users by stating that "the truth is that this is not possible."

The statement was most notably signed by:

  • Element chief executive Matthew Hodgson

  • Oxen Privacy Tech Foundation and Session director Alex Linton

  • Signal president Meredith Whittaker

  • Threema chief executive Martin Blatter

  • Viber chief executive Ofir Eyal

  • head of WhatsApp at Meta Will Cathcart

  • Wire chief technical officer Alan Duric

Hodgson went so far as to call the bill a "spectacular violation of privacy... equivalent to putting a CCTV camera in everyone's bedroom.”

The platforms do have some government support. Liberal Democrat digital-economy spokesman Lord Clement-Jones told the BBC that "The OSB as it stands could lead to a duty to surveil every message anyone sends.”

"We need to know the government's intentions on this,” he added. The politician is proposing an amendment to the bill that would ensure users’ privacy is not violated although at the time it remains unclear how that can be executed.

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