The UK’s Online Safety Bill undermines everyone’s safety

April 17, 2023
Online Safety Bill

As a UK-headquartered company, we’re perhaps the most concerned of all the companies signing the open letter that urges the UK government to radically rethink the Online Safety Bill.

As currently drafted the Bill forces messaging services to break their end-to-end encryption by implementing third party scanning of decrypted content, completely undermining the security that end-to-end encryption offers. It would amount to blanket surveillance; exposing private content to moderators whether actually abusive or incorrectly scanned - and providing a whole new mechanism that can be used by bad actors to access encrypted conversations.

What is proposed is not an Online Safety Bill; it is an Online Surveillance Bill.

We stand united to resist an Orwellian landscape.

A copy of the open letter is below:


To anyone who cares about safety and privacy on the internet.

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.

Around the world, businesses, individuals and governments face persistent threats from online fraud, scams and data theft. Malicious actors and hostile states routinely challenge the security of our critical infrastructure. End-to-end encryption is one of the strongest possible defenses against these threats, and as vital institutions become ever more dependent on internet technologies to conduct core operations, the stakes have never been higher.

As currently drafted, the Bill could break end-to-end encryption, opening the door to routine, general and indiscriminate surveillance of personal messages of friends, family members, employees, executives, journalists, human rights activists and even politicians themselves, which would fundamentally undermine everyone’s ability to communicate securely.

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.

In short, the Bill poses an unprecedented threat to the privacy, safety and security of every UK citizen and the people with whom they communicate around the world, while emboldening hostile governments who may seek to draft copy-cat laws.

Proponents say that they appreciate the importance of encryption and privacy while also claiming that it's possible to surveil everyone's messages without undermining end-to-end encryption. The truth is that this is not possible.

We aren’t the only ones who share concerns about the UK Bill. The United Nations has warned that the UK Government’s efforts to impose backdoor requirements constitute “a paradigm shift that raises a host of serious problems with potentially dire consequences”.

Even the UK Government itself has acknowledged the privacy risks that the text of the Bill poses, but has said its “intention” isn’t for the Bill to be interpreted this way.

Global providers of end-to-end encrypted products and services cannot weaken the security of their products and services to suit individual governments. There cannot be a “British internet,” or a version of end-to-end encryption that is specific to the UK.

The UK Government must urgently rethink the Bill, revising it to encourage companies to offer more privacy and security to its residents, not less. Weakening encryption, undermining privacy, and introducing the mass surveillance of people’s private communications is not the way forward.

Signed by those who care about keeping our conversations secure:

Matthew Hodgson, CEO, Element
Alex Linton, Director, OPTF/Session
Meredith Whittaker, President, Signal
Martin Blatter, CEO, Threema
Ofir Eyal, CEO, Viber
Will Cathcart, Head of WhatsApp at Meta
Alan Duric, Co-founder and CTO, Wire

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