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Messaging apps voice encryption concerns in Online Safety Bill letter

Online Safety Bill letter
Image credit: Shutterstock

A group of executives from messaging apps including WhatsApp and Signal have raised concerns that the government’s upcoming Online Safety Bill “has no explicit protection for encryption”.

In an open letter, the messaging platforms said there are fears the Online Safety Bill as it stands could let the government remove encryption and read private messages.

Signal in a statement referred to the Online Safety Bill as “flawed.”

“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,” reads the letter.

“The Bill provides no explicit protection for encryption, and if implemented as written, could empower OFCOM to try to force the proactive scanning of private messages on end-to-end encrypted communication services – nullifying the purpose of end-to-end encryption as a result and compromising the privacy of all users.”

A Home Office spokesperson said:

“We support strong encryption, 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.”

“Where it is the only effective, proportionate and necessary action available, Ofcom will be able to direct platforms to use accredited technology, or make best endeavours to develop new technology, to accurately identify child sexual abuse content, so it can be taken down and the despicable predators brought to justice.”

The letter is signed by Element CEO Matthew Hodgson, OPTF/Session director Alex Linton, Signal president Meredith Whittaker, Threema CEO Martin Blatter, Viber CEO Ofir Eyal, Meta’s WhatsApp head Will Cathcart and Wire CTO Alan Duric.

Cathcart said via Twitter: “Private messages are private. We oppose proposals to scan people’s private messages, and we’re proud to stand with other apps to defend encryption and your right to privacy.”

A further concern is the UK Online Safety Bill could result in “copy-cat laws” in other countries.

Back in February, Signal said it would remove its messaging app from the UK if the Online Safety Bill interferes with encryption.

WhatsApp then came out last month saying it would not be weakening its encryption standards for the bill.