WhatsApp: “There cannot be a British Internet”
Encrypted messenger service WhatsApp and its rivals have jointly penned an open letter to the UK Government urging it to rethink legislation in its Online Safety Bill.
The letter, signed by the Meta-owned firm’s head Will Cathcart and published as a blog post on WhatsApp’s site, claims that the Bill could undermine end-to-end encryption and the privacy that it provides because the government has provided no explicit protection for encryption.
“As end-to-end-encrypted communication services, we urge the UK Government to address the risks that the Online Safety Bill poses to everyone’s privacy and safety.”
“It is not too late to ensure that the Bill aligns with the Government’s stated intention to protect end-to-end encryption and respect the human right to privacy,” the text read.
Ministers want regulator Ofcom to be able to ask the platforms to monitor users, to root out child abuse images and they argue that it is possible to do this and have both privacy and child safety because this is the Bill’s intention.
The messenger services however, which included Element, OPTF/ Session, Signal, Threema, Viber and Wire, jointly argue that it’s simply not possible for the government to break end-to-end messaging and survey people’s messages without undermining their privacy.
The letter also makes the case for encryption being integral to combating crimes like fraud, scams and data theft as well as cyber threats from hostile states.
“End-to-end encryption is one of the strongest possible defences against these threats, and as vital institutions become ever more dependent on internet technologies to conduct core operations, the stakes have never been higher.”
The global messaging firms add that they cannot “weaken the security of their products and services” to suit one government:
“There cannot be a “British internet,” or a version of end-to-end encryption that is specific to the UK,” the letter argued – warning that such a move would embolden “hostile governments who may seek to draft copy-cat laws”.
The UK Online Safety Bill is an attempt to force internet companies to remove illegal content such as child sexual abuse or terrorism.
Originally proposed by Theresa May’s government in the online harms white paper, the Bill has survived four prime ministers and seven departmental secretaries to reach this point.
However, its critics either think it’s gone too far and is too suppressive; or that it doesn’t go far enough in protecting children from harmful online content.
The much-beleaguered Bill was also criticised earlier this year by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales who told TechInformed that the Bill’s ‘top down’ approach to regulation could undermine the way that self-moderated open source sites like Wikipedia work.
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