Tag Archives: online safety bill

Don’t follow Iran in banning encrypted messaging like Signal and WhatsApp

This month you received “Your Parliamentary Briefing: standing up to the Iranian regime” in your inbox.
After a British-Iranian woman at Conference Q&As was left “looking for inspiration” as to what she could do “from here in Britain” to fight totalitarianism, Lib Dem MPs have “called on the UK government to take a stronger stance against the Iranian regime”.

Let’s instead start here in Britain.

The Online Safety Bill’s ‘spy clause’ would follow Iran in banning Encryption and by extension Signal, WhatsApp and Proton. Will you oppose?

That was my 25-word question to Ed Davey. Alas it wasn’t asked, so now I get to tell you about it in 750.

I understand Ed, Daisy & their 12 disciples supporting the Online Safety Bill: I did too.
My Fulbright scholarship in technology uncovered the harms of technology dependence, an issue I struggled with as an adolescent as I reveal in my single “Honest” this month.
So I supported in December – onstage at a Unicef conference – the UK’s landmark attempts to hold Big Tech to account for public content they promote to minors like tragic victim Molly Russell.
And I support Wera Hobhouse’s intentions to help protect women and other communities most targeted with public online hate.

But thanks to digital-rights advocates Open Rights Group, we’ve since become aware that the child-protection rhetoric has been twisted to belittle all British citizens. They want OFCOM to scan all of our digital communications.
This potent clause that will require messenger apps to use OFCOM “accredited technology to prevent individuals from encountering terrorism or CSEA content” is buried 4 levels deep (110.2.a.ii), so it’s no surprise that the only Lib Dem who seemed aware of it at my first conference was tech-specialist Lord Clement-Jones.

Though vague, the clause clearly enough intends to break Encryption for Signal – and even WhatsApp who borrow their nonprofit encryption protocol – to cry foul on government surveillance and threaten to pull from UK app stores.
Quick reality check: WhatsApp’s owned by Meta, who recently had to compensate me 300 quid for a privacy-breach. They think HMG is threatening Britons privacy.

No more WhatsApp. Nice, no more Group Chat notifications, and Matt Hancock can get back to serving his constituents.
And no more terrorism or child-abuse?
Not quite. The educated and savvy – baddies included – will still find a way of multiplying their prime numbers to encrypt sensitive comms. About bad things they’re attempting In Real Life.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 5 Comments

Snooping on our WhatsApp is a step too far

We rely on private and secure messaging services to keep our personal information and correspondence safe. Privacy is essential in many situations. Whether we’re communicating with a loved one, seeking advice on a sensitive situation, or sharing pictures on the family WhatsApp group. For some people such as journalists, whistle-blowers, or the Ukrainians fighting Russia it can be a matter of life or death. The ability for people to communicate privately is a human right and a long-standing cornerstone at the foundation of Liberal Democracy and Western values.

Government ministers and the security services make no secret that they want to spy on your private messages and WhatsApp groups. Our last Home Secretary vocally opposed Meta’s intention to make Facebook messenger DMs encrypted by default.  Default end-to-end encryption is important as it means people can’t spy on your messages. Sadly this is not a new trend. Brian Paddock previously sounded the alarm when another Conservative Home Secretary Amber Rudd was looking to take the same draconian approach.

Being able to message someone privately and securely keeps us safe, yet it is being put at risk by a bill that incorrectly claims to promote safety. It asks companies that provide services such as WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram, to monitor the content of messages. It also empowers OFCOM to compel providers of user-to-user messaging services to run accredited software to scan, detect and report instances of CSEA or terrorism.

The Online Safety Bill doesn’t explain how this might technically work, most likely it would involve something called ‘client-side scanning’. This is where software is installed on every device and scans your private messages before they are sent. The Open Rights Group has stated this amounts to installing a ‘spy in the pocket’ of every mobile phone user. Any messages the software ‘thinks’ contains prohibited material could be either blocked and/or reported automatically to authorities. This sort of software will certainly lead to false accusations as happened recently when Google reported a man to the Police. 

Recently we saw an example of someone’s private messages being used against them when private messages on Facebook were handed over to the Police to assist in prosecuting a Woman in an abortion case. This highlights the risk women in the US could face if more states move to criminalise abortion. What happens if we see a similar erosion of women’s right to choose here in the UK?

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 5 Comments

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