UK Secretary of State for Technology, Michelle Donelan MP, told the BBC on Thursday that she was still supported part of the Online Safety Bill that would require social media apps to access private messaging features. The state goal of these provision is to protect children and vulnerable people from harmful online content.
The legislation would target private messaging companies which use end-to-end encryption, such as WhatsApp and iMessage, to scan their users’ content for child abuse material. Users would need to install a client-side scanning software to read their messages before they are encrypted. Donelan said that apps can use encryption and still access users messages. She assured users that companies accessing private messages will only happen as a last resort if child exploitation/abuse content is suspected to be on a device. Donelan has previously discussed whether the bill goes far enough in protecting children from seeing and accessing child abuse content. She mentioned that the bill does not impact press freedom or cause individuals to have to “censor their online speech”.
This bill has been very controversial. Over 80 organizations and tech experts expressed their concern with the bill, with companies demanding it be amended and threatening to withdraw operation in the UK. Apple and Facebook tested the client-side scanning technology, but said it led to serious privacy concerns and ended the trials early. Matthew Lesh from the Institute of Economic Affairs also criticized the plans, stating that it is contradictory to protect user privacy while “spying” on their messages. However, child safety charity NSPCC is in support of the bill and is confident that it will tackle the growing issue of online child abuse.
The legislation is in its final stages before it it fully implemented. It is expected to be debated in the House of Commons in September.