UK Government Denies U-Turn on Plan to Scan Encrypted Messages

The UK government has denied that it has dropped a controversial plan to scan encrypted messaging services for harmful content as part of its Online Safety Bill, which is due to become law later this year.

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A provision in the bill allows regulator Ofcom to order messaging services to use "accredited technology" to look for and take down child sexual abuse material.

However, according to a Financial Times report, the British government's minister for arts and heritage, Stephen Parkinson, said on Wednesday that Ofcom would only be able to intervene if scanning content was "technically feasible" and if the process met minimum standards of privacy and accuracy.

Many security experts believe that such tech tools may never exist, while tech firms have argued that content moderation policies such as client-side scanning are impossible to implement without circumventing end-to-end encryption, which ensures that only the user and the person they are communicating with can read or listen to what is sent.

Apple has threatened to pull services including FaceTime and iMessage in the UK if the online safety bill goes ahead in its current form, while WhatsApp and Signal have said they will quit the UK altogether.

Despite the government's apparent concession to tech companies' arguments, technology minister Michelle Donelan on Thursday denied that the bill had changed, arguing that if necessary it will still require companies to work to develop technology to scan encrypted messages if they cannot take action to stop child abuse on their platforms.

Donelan told reporters further work to develop the technology was needed, adding that government-funded research had shown it was possible, however she did not offer evidence to back her claim.

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Top Rated Comments

headlessmike Avatar
12 months ago

No government should have the right to read personal messages. We are moving more and more to socialism!
I'm apposed to mass surveillance as well, but that has nothing to do with socialism which is an economic theory more than anything else.
Score: 60 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Lionel Messi Avatar
12 months ago
Masking mass surveillance with “stopping child abuse”. Dangerous pathway here that will rewind end-to-end encryption worldwide.

I’m happy tech companies plan on abandoning the UK if the bill passes and that will be lesson learnt to other governments.
Score: 53 Votes (Like | Disagree)
aibo82 Avatar
12 months ago
Score: 49 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Jackbequickly Avatar
12 months ago
No government should have the right to read personal messages. We are moving more and more to socialism!
Score: 42 Votes (Like | Disagree)
centauratlas Avatar
12 months ago
And it isn’t just the UK. Authoritarian regimes around the world (whether fascist, socialist, communist, monarchist etc) want the power to control and see what everyone is doing.

Free speech requires anonymity.
Score: 38 Votes (Like | Disagree)
H2SO4 Avatar
12 months ago
The UK government would deny a U turn on a street with no junctions or roundabouts.
Score: 32 Votes (Like | Disagree)