There was speculation that the UK government was reconsidering its stance on enforcing the weakening of end-to-end encryption in messaging services. This followed strong resistance from encrypted service providers and internal reports suggesting that undermining encryption could create serious problems. However, proponents of the government’s Online Safety Bill, which contains the proposed legislation, suggested the potential seizure of encryption-breaking demands would not be immediate.
It soon became clear that the seeming concession made no changes to the bill’s wording. Further, statements suggested the government believed that the only obstacle to achieving safely broken encryption was the resistance of tech professionals working for services like WhatsApp and Signal.
In spite of the controversy, the Online Safety Bill has now passed through the UK Parliament, with all anti-encryption language intact. It appears that the UK government is now resuming pressure on tech companies, hoping to convince them to abandon plans for encryption before the new law comes into effect.
The UK Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, has confirmed that Ofcom, the tech regulator, will have the power to fine companies that fail to comply with the Online Safety Bill up to 10% of their global annual turnover. She also expressed a desire to work with Meta, the parent company of Facebook, to create a form of encryption that can be broken without compromising user security.
This move has been criticized as it presents a direct threat to users’ privacy and security, and it remains unclear whether such a form of encryption could indeed be secure. Despite assertions from the UK government that such technology exists, no evidence has been provided to support this claim.
In conclusion, the UK government’s insistence on weakening encryption in messaging services, as detailed in the Online Safety Bill, presents a potential threat to user privacy and security. It represents a clear divergence from the views of encrypted service providers and tech professionals, and raises important questions about the balance between law enforcement capabilities and the privacy rights of individuals.