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The UK’s Online Safety Bill and the Impact on social media

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Twitter’s Head of Site Integrity, Yoel Roth, said his company is seeing “governments become more aggressive in how they try to use legal tactics to unmask the people using our service” and as a way to “silence people”. (Tech Outlook). It’s a view echoed by WhatsApp CEO, Will Cathcart, who this week said his company might cease operating in the UK if the Online Safety Bill reaches the statute book in its current form. (BBC).


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Mr Cathcart was talking specifically about a new, government-backed amendment to the bill that will require tech firms like WhatsApp to make their “best endeavours” to deploy new technology to identify and remove child sexual abuse and exploitation content if existing technology isn’t suitable for that purpose on their respective platforms. (Sky News).

The bill did already contain a proposal to give Ofcom – the regulator tasked with overseeing implementation of the bill – the power to require deployment of existing, “accredited technology” for that purpose. Under the new amendment, however, Ofcom will be able to demand that tech firms deploy or develop new technology to help find abuse material and stop its spread. (Guardian).

Mr Cathcart said that “what’s being proposed is that… we read everyone’s messages”, a choice of words which suggests WhatsApp is now worried Ofcom may well ask online service providers to pursue ‘client-side scanning’, a controversial surveillance method which allows providers of end-to-end encrypted communication services to automatically scan private chats, messages, texts, images, videos and speech sent from that ‘client’s’ phone for suspicious content which could then automatically be reported to the police. (BBC News).

Critics say the technology could be subject to “scope creep” once it’s installed on phones and computers, so it isn’t just used to search for illegal content. (Computer Weekly). That’s obviously a worrying possibility, not least because freedom of expression and privacy are mutually reinforcing rights. 

For Mr Cathcart, the fundamental problem with client-side scanning is that it undermines WhatsApp’s unique selling point, namely, secure, end-to-end encryption. As he told the BBC’s Tech Tent podcast, “WhatsApp’s a global product. People use it… to talk across countries all the time. And so if we had to lower security for the world to accommodate a [regulatory] requirement in one country, as a business decision, that would be very foolish for us.” Would WhatsApp disable services in the UK if the newly amended Online Safety Bill passed into law?, asked the interviewer. “To date, the way we’ve worked is we’ve offered a global service and some countries choose to block it,” he replied. “I hope that never happens in a liberal democracy.”

The case for the Government’s amendment is of course that it will protect children. According to the National Crime Agency, there are between 550,000 and 850,000 people in the UK who pose a sexual risk to children, and it’s not difficult to understand why secure, end-to-end encryption might prove useful to those wishing to circulate depraved images online. That’s why Home Secretary Priti Patel has argued that “things like end-to-end encryption significantly reduce the ability for platforms to detect child sexual abuse”. (Telegraph). 

But is the amendment a sledgehammer to crack a nut? Back in 2021, Apple abandoned attempts to introduce its own client-side scanning software after 14 top computer scientists, including encryption pioneers Ron Rivest and Whit Diffie, found its plans were unworkable, open to abuse, and threatened internet security. (Tech Times). Their paper Bugs in our pockets: the risks of client-side scanning, identified 15 ways that states, malicious actors, and even targeted child abusers, could exploit the technology to cause harm to others. (Computer Weekly). Even the UK’s own Information Commissioner’s Office has said that encrypting communications actually strengthens online safety for children by reducing their exposure to threats such as blackmail. (Guardian).

Republished from The Free Speech Union on LinkedIn.  You can join The Free Speech Union on their website HERE.

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1 month ago

[…] RHODA WILSON ON AUGUST 16, 2022 • ( 1 COMMENT […]

Petra
Petra
1 month ago

It’s pretty obvious they do not aim at pedophiles, but at those who do not agree with the government view on jabbing people with POISON and the CO2 CLIMATE FAIRYTALE.

Nick T
Nick T
1 month ago

This has nothing to do with Child pornography, they are using this excuse to implement the ability to spy on people with the eventual elimination of Free Speech and Privacy.

How’s a common wealth Democracy allowed to even request such a draconian tyrannical overreaching government measures? Then have the balls to use the sensitive topic on child porn to somehow get away with it?

Ridiculous, extremely ridiculous.

raj patel
raj patel
Reply to  Nick T
1 month ago

I agree with both Petra and Nick T’s comments – it is a very obvious play to remove free speech and privacy. I took myself off social media, gmail, linkedin, amazon etc. years ago. As someone who has worked in technology for many years, it was obvious what was happening. I advise people now that you have no privacy online regardless of whether you use a VPN etc. Your phones are not secure – if you don’t want to be spied on then talk in person and away from surveillance cameras including those irritating ring door bells. Go old school.

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1 month ago

[…] Go to Source Follow altnews.org on Telegram […]

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1 month ago

[…] RHODA WILSON ON AUGUST 16, 2022 • ( 1 COMMENT […]

Uftonwood
Uftonwood
1 month ago

The clue of what they are up to is the phrase: ‘Legal, but harmful’. The government through ofcom (thought police?) will decide. The ultimate aim, apart from personal surveillance, is to have sites such as this and UK Column shut down. Then enter the Nazi Asov brIgade. The future looks bleak.

Eddie
Eddie
1 month ago

I believe that people should start using “dumbphones” instead of “smartphones” .I purchased a few months ago a mobile phone from 2013. It is literally meant only for making and receiving calls and for massaging and it fulfils its purpose . My current service provider keeps sending me emails encouraging me to upgrade to the latest samsung foldable phone with 5G. I politely reply to them…stuff it.

Janet Cutts
Janet Cutts
1 month ago

I wonder if it will scan politicians WhatsApp conversations I ditched WhatsApp quite a while ago they seem to be getting ,ore & more desperate now 🤔

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1 month ago

[…] – The UK’s Online Safety Bill and the Impact on social media […]

Mark Deacon
Mark Deacon
1 month ago

According to the National Crime Agency, there are between 550,000 and 850,000 people in the UK who pose a sexual risk to children

But if you ethnically correct they will leave you alone as in Manchester child sex grooing.

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1 month ago

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