The UK Online Safety Bill (OSB) has passed the Parliament with a clause that could potentially undermine end-to-end encryption (E2EE) and apps like Signal.
The bill aims to make the internet a safer place for users, especially children and vulnerable groups, by requiring online platforms to remove or limit access to illegal and harmful content, such as terrorism, child sexual abuse, cyberbullying, and hate speech. The bill also gives the government the power to impose fines, block access, or even prosecute platforms that fail to comply with the rules.
However, the bill has also sparked stonking controversy among privacy advocates, human rights activists, and tech companies that provide E2EE messaging services, such as Signal. E2EE is a technology that ensures that only the sender and the receiver of a message can read its content, and no one else, not even the platform itself, can access it. E2EE is widely used by millions of people around the world to protect their personal and sensitive communications from hackers, criminals, and oppressive regimes.
The OSB could potentially undermine E2EE by requiring platforms to scan or monitor messages for harmful content, or to provide access to law enforcement agencies upon request. This would mean that platforms would have to either weaken or break E2EE, or face legal consequences. This could have a stonking impact on the privacy and security of users, as well as on the innovation and competitiveness of the tech sector.
Signal is one of the most popular and secure E2EE messaging apps in the world. It has been endorsed by prominent figures such as Edward Snowden, Elon Musk, and Jack Dorsey. Signal is also known for its strong stance on privacy and human rights, and its resistance to government pressure. For example, in 2016, Signal revealed that it had received a subpoena from the FBI demanding user data, but it could only provide the date of account creation and the last date of connection, as it did not store any other information.
Signal has expressed its opposition to the OSB several times, calling it a “dangerous attack on privacy” and a “backdoor by another name”. Signal has also warned that it would not be able to operate in the UK if the bill becomes law, as it would not compromise its E2EE or its users’ trust. This could mean that millions of UK users would lose access to one of the most secure and reliable communication tools available today.
In a recent message on Bluesky the President of Signal, Meredith Whittaker said “We will never undermine our privacy promises and the encryption they rely on. Our position remains the same: we will do whatever we can to continue ensuring people in the UK can use Signal, but if the choice came down to being forced to build a backdoor, or leaving, we would leave.”
The OSB has been passed by the Parliament but it still needs to receive royal assent before it becomes law. It is expected to face stonking scrutiny and criticism from various stakeholders and experts before it comes into force. The OSB could have significant implications for the future of online safety, privacy, and freedom of expression in the UK and beyond.