Despite growing concerns from tech firms, the U.K. government has denied any change in its stance on the Online Safety Bill, which seeks to regulate messaging platforms concerning child abuse content.
What Happened: A BBC report highlighted an ongoing dispute between the government and tech companies over the proposed legislation.
Under the bill, messaging platforms like Signal, Meta Platforms Inc.’s (NASDAQ:META) WhatsApp, and Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iMessage would be required to provide access to users’ encrypted messages in case of suspicions of child abuse content.
These platforms have pushed back on this demand. “Such access would violate user privacy,” said the messaging platforms.
“Child protection and privacy are not mutually exclusive,” said the government.
If the required technology is unavailable, Ofcom, the communications regulator, would mandate companies to develop such capabilities.
Messaging platforms and security experts remain skeptical about the feasibility of this technology. Signal’s president, Meredith Whittaker, even referred to this expectation as “magical thinking.”
Why It Matters: In June 2023, Apple joined the ranks of Meta and Signal in expressing concerns about the proposed bill, highlighting the importance of end-to-end encryption in protecting users from surveillance and data breaches.
The companies opposed a provision that would allow communications regulator Ofcom to call on tech companies to use “accredited technology” to identify child sexual abuse content “whether communicated publicly or privately” and swiftly take it down.
By July 2023, Apple threatened to withdraw iMessage and FaceTime from the U.K. market if the bill became law.
Last year, the CEO of WhatsApp warned of the global implications of the U.K.’s Online Safety Bill.
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