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WhatsApp, Signal and others Against New Safety Bill

The Online Safety Bill (OSB), which was unveiled on May 12, 2021, is a proposed piece of legislation by the Parliament of the United Kingdom that seeks to enhance the safety of the internet. Building on the 2019 Online Harms White Paper, the Bill grants the Secretary of State the authority, pending Parliamentary endorsement, to identify and confront a broad spectrum of possibly damaging online content, encompassing but not limited to online harassment, illicit pornography, minors’ access to lawful pornography, and certain categories of internet scams.

The Online Safety Bill (OSB) proposed by the UK government has raised concerns among messaging services such as WhatsApp, Signal, Element, Viber, and others, as it may threaten end-to-end encryption. The bill intends to empower the regulator to monitor users to root out child abuse images and harmful contents.

In an open letter, as reported by the BBC, company executives have highlighted that the OSB in its current form could lead to routine, general, and indiscriminate surveillance of personal messages, posing an unprecedented threat to the privacy, safety, and security of every UK citizen, with most of the companies threatening to leave the country if this is enforced.

The letter concludes that there cannot be a “British internet” or a version of end-to-end encryption specific to the UK, and the bill poses an unacceptable violation of privacy. While proponents of the bill argue that it’s possible to surveil everyone’s messages without undermining end-to-end encryption, the messaging services have stated that this is not possible.

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