Could the UK’s Online Safety Bill be damaging to privacy?

A recent letter sent to Parliament by a group of cybersecurity and IT experts has warned that the UK’s Online Safety Bill may turn out to be damaging to privacy.

According to CyberNews, the letter to Parliament highlights that clause 103(2)(b) of the bill allows OFCOM “to order a provider of a user-to-user service, which includes private messaging platforms, ‘to use accredited technology’ to identify child sexual exploitation and abuse content, including on private messaging platforms”.

Forty-five signees of the letter underlined that this may require platforms to implement scanning capabilities to examine the content for possible violations. As end-to-end encrypted services do not allow providers to view the contents of a message except for the sender and recipient details, this goal cannot be achievable within standard privacy-friendly solutions.

This requirement, therefore, will force providers to partially on fully abandon end-to-end encryption – which could expose private messages to third parties.

CyberNews underlined that the Online Safety Bill aims to protect children and adults from illicit content, including making cyberflashing illegal and creating a ‘communication offense’ for users who share dangerous content with others.

The letter stated that while its important to tackle issues related to CSEA, the UK law enforcement already possess ‘a wide range of powers to seize devices, compel passwords and even covertly monitor and hack accounts to overcome security measures and identify criminals.

Signatories of the letter argued that instead of protecting children, the regulation will force the hand of firms to introduce unnecessary vulnerabilities into their systems.

The letter said, “The proposal is ill-suited to address its stated aim and instead places huge risk to all users of private messaging platforms, as well as creating unimplementable and impractical requirements which would be at odds with human rights standards.”

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