In an open letter to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, several security experts and human rights groups have expressed concern about the dangers that the UK’s Online Safety Bill presents for end-to-end encryption (E2EE).
The signatories of the letter said that since UK citizens and businesses now rely more on E2EE to secure themselves, the government should ensure that the Online Safety Bill does not undermine encryption in private communications.
“Encryption is important to ensure Internet users are protected online, to build economic security through a pro-business UK economy that can deal with the cost of living crisis, and to assure national security,” the letter to the Prime Minister stated.
“As you begin your new role as Prime Minister, civil society organizations that are signatories and companies, including members of the Global Encryption Coalition, are urging you and your government to ensure that encryption is not weakened.”
Campaign groups warn that the provisions of the Online Safety Bill will now remove encryption in private communications, reducing internet security for UK citizens and businesses, including the very groups that the Online Safety Bill seeks to protect.
They further argue that this proposal will compromise freedom of speech, which they claim is a crucial aspect of a free society that sets the UK apart from aggressors who use oppression and force to achieve their goals.
The Online Security Bill could be up for discussion in the UK Parliament again early next week.
Legal speech but harmful
Parliamentary debate on the bill was delayed throughout the summer and again in October as a result of political unrest within the ruling Conservative Party.
The government has hinted that it wants to make amendments to the draft, although this change is expected to focus on the related clause called ‘lawful but harmful’ speech.
During the Conservative Party leadership race this summer, Rishi Sunak voiced concerns about the Bill’s potential to stifle freedom of expression, as the Government would have the ability to designate information as ‘legitimate but harmful’. He promised to amend Clause 14, which would give social media companies the right to remove offensive comments they disagree with.
The case against government backdoors
Privacy advocates say that various proposals put forward by different governments in recent years to scan user-to-user communications for criminal content are flawed because they are based on the false assumption that a backdoor or other workaround for reading encrypted messages can only be created. to be used in a useful way.
“That is not the case, and never will be,” they argue, adding that criminals, domestic abusers, and authoritarian regimes will take advantage of backdoors such as those suggested by the Online Security Bill.
“We all deserve the protection that end-to-end encryption provides, but society’s most vulnerable — children and at-risk community members — need it most.”
Good luck to Bill
Meanwhile, the return of the Online Safety Bill in parliament has been welcomed by child safety groups.
The return of the bill was seen as a “relief” by Susie Hargreaves, CEO of the Internet Watch Foundation, which organizes efforts to combat child abuse images online.
“We have seen that the threats that people, especially children, face online will not go away, and we know that strong and clear action will be needed if the UK is to realize its goal of being the safest place in the world to be online.” he said.
“Now, we need to see MPs pulling together with a common goal. The police, charities and big tech businesses are all doing amazing work, and clear direction from the government would be a welcome boost.”