IT academics warn UK’s Online Safety Bill could undermine encryption

In an open letter, the academics joined encrypted communication services and Apple in cautioning against the bill’s provisions for routine monitoring of communications, arguing that they would undermine privacy guarantees and critical security protocols.

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Nearly 70 IT security and privacy academics have expressed concerns over the UK’s Online Safety Bill, warning that it could jeopardize online safety by undermining strong encryption. In an open letter, the academics highlighted the risks posed by the legislation to essential security technologies, which were also previously pointed out by encrypted communication services and Apple.

They argued that the bill’s push for routine communications monitoring would undermine privacy guarantees and critical security protocols. The academics urged lawmakers to amend the bill in the House of Lords to protect encryption. They emphasised the failures and potential misuse of proposed solutions like client-side scanning and crypto backdoors. 

The experts also warned about the unreliability and potential harm caused by false positives in detecting prohibited content. They raised concerns about the expansion of scanning technologies and increased state-mandated surveillance. 

The government responded, stating that companies should only implement encryption if they can combat child sexual abuse effectively while clarifying that the bill does not grant monitoring powers and that technology would be a last resort with privacy safeguards in place.