Government Fails to Close Online Safety Bill Backdoor mdi-fullscreen

Despite government claims that the Online Safety Bill will not include a ‘backdoor’ for breaking encryption, contrary to reports, there have been no amendments to the Bill that would stop the Home Office snooping on private messages. Here’s where we stand as the bill looks to return to parliament:

  • A recent report reveals a backdoor in the Online Safety Bill that empowers the Home Office read private messages en masse under the Investigatory Powers Act.
  • ‘Breaking encryption’ could decrease security and increase hacking risks.
  • It would undermine journalistic sources and patient confidentiality.
  • It is likely that WhatsApp and Signal may cease their UK services if the unamended Bill becomes law.
  • Even the UK government’s own encrypted messages could become vulnerable to hostile foreign actors.
  • The bill contravenes the EU’s Digital Markets Act which defends end-to-end encryption for messaging services.
  • Various businesses and civic leaders, including Signal CEO Meredith Whittaker, have expressed concerns about these powers.
  • Despite warnings from civil society, the government has pursued efforts to break encrypted messaging.
  • Measures to break encryption are opposed by three quarters of voters and threaten Britain’s £1 trillion tech sector.

Speaking on the latest evidence, David Davis told Guido:

“The Government has acted with the best of intentions but this Bill is going to have a litany of unintended consequences. Conceding that interception at source of private communications – and effective undermining of encryption –  won’t happen until ‘technically feasible’ is an improvement on rushing blindly into a disastrous policy, but it is still just kicking the problem down the road. We need to be clear on a variety of issues thrown up by this latest stance.   Will, for example, Parliament be consulted at the point that a technically feasible option is judged to be available?   If not, who will assess whether the option is safe enough?

“Too many ministers and numerous changes of direction has resulted in a piece of legislation that will have significant unintended consequences for this country.

“We have a duty to uphold our rights to privacy and freedom of expression. Proper consideration must be given to how both the Online Safety Bill and the Investigatory Powers Act operate together, and what the real effect of these two complex pieces of legislation are on the rights of the British people.”

Westminster’s worried about Chinese spies, perhaps we should also be looking a little closer to home…

UPDATE: The government made a last-minute amendment in the Lords to include new powers for Ofcom to “remotely view” information. This was not consulted about publicly. Ofcom has a history of  being victim to cyberattacks… 

Lord Parkinson gave verbal assurances that powers to require scanning of private messages would not be used until technically feasible in the Lords yesterday. There are no words to that effect in the Bill…

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mdi-account-multiple-outline David Davis
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