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Privacy concerns raised as UK government advances Online Safety Bill

privacy-concerns-raised-as-uk-government-advances-online-safety-bill
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Privacy concerns raised as UK government advances Online Safety Bill

The U.K. Parliament is currently reviewing the Online Safety Bill (OSB) as a means of internet regulation. If approved, the government would be authorized to mandate messaging companies to create backdoors and require detailed reports of users’ online activity.

As the bill approaches approval in UK’s highest chamber, the House of Lords, there are concerns about its potential consequences for global privacy and encryption standards.

The bill’s critics argue that this approach may have implications for private conversations and could raise concerns about surveillance vulnerabilities.

Stakeholders like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have expressed reservations about the OSB, raising potential challenges to online privacy and security. The EFF has emphasized the difficulty of maintaining end-to-end encryption while implementing government-mandated message-scanning technology.

Leading encrypted messaging platforms, including WhatsApp, Signal, and UK-based Element, have also conveyed their concerns through an open letter earlier this year. They highlighted how the bill’s provisions could lead to broader and indiscriminate surveillance of personal messages, affecting various individuals, including journalists, human rights activists, and politicians.

In response to the growing debate, the U.K. government maintains that the proposed technology can effectively balance message-scanning and user privacy. However, experts and privacy advocates continue to engage in discussions to ensure the bill addresses potential challenges in practical implementation.

Amid ongoing discussions, U.K. civil society groups have advocated for a significant amendment to preserve end-to-end encryption during the House of Lords’ review process. They stress that such protection is essential for individuals relying on privacy in their communications, particularly human rights defenders and journalists.

Moreover, public sentiment plays a role in the Online Safety Bill discourse. A recent survey indicated that 83% of U.K. citizens prioritize strong security and privacy measures.

As the Online Safety Bill nears its final stages in Parliament, stakeholders from various sectors continue to engage in constructive dialogue. Whether these discussions will lead to amendments or further modifications to address concerns about privacy and encryption remains to be seen.

Crypto networks heavily rely on encryption, and the impact of this bill on blockchains and messaging apps dependent on public ledgers is yet to be seen. 

In June, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) listed new guidelines for promoting crypto assets, including meme coins, targeting influencers. Earlier this year, the watchdog’s executive director, Sarah Pritchard, said they were willing to collaborate with crypto players to develop fitting regulations.