The UK parliament has approved the Online Safety Bill, which will address illegal and harmful content online. Or will it? The worry amongst online privacy advocates is that the government is playing the “protect the children” card and encroaching on our rights and freedoms.
The United Kingdom’s Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said that the bill – explained here – was a “game-changing” piece of legislation. “This government is taking an enormous step forward in our mission to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online,” she stated.
When the bill becomes law, social media platforms will have to remove all sorts of illegal or harmful content and ensure that children are prevented from accessing, again, harmful and age-inappropriate content.
Now, this all sounds perfectly reasonable. And yet, the most contentious feature of the Online Safety Bill is the requirement to scan encrypted messages for illegal content before they’re sent. Critics say that this is a threat to privacy, thus igniting a serious debate about privacy and protection online.
Is so-called client-side scanning, supposed to prevent harmful content from reaching users, even possible without threatening end-to-end encryption? With the advances in machine learning – maybe.
But so far, the danger is that our private messages and other types of data would become accessible not only to the government and the Big Tech companies but also to third parties such as adversaries from China, Russia, or even the so-called script kiddies from the neighborhood.
Cybernews journos discuss precisely this – whether this is the price we have to pay if we want to eliminate criminal content – in our new episode of the “Through a Glass Darkly” podcast series.
The format of this 48-minute-long episode is a bit different – two sides are defending their respective camp. We delve into topics such as:
- Why is encryption so essential for protecting our privacy and security online and does it really prevent snooping on our communications?
- As our elected representatives, shouldn’t the government take action against the proliferation of harmful content online?
- Can the answer to the question “is it possible to protect public safety without infringing upon user privacy,” be positive?
- If one listens to what the tech companies are saying, encryption sounds like a magic potion – is it?
- Why would journalists and other groups dealing with sensitive or secret material be in danger if end-to-end encryption was undermined?
- How can attitudes change if one suddenly realizes the country she’s living in is not democratic anymore?
“The new regulation affects everyone and can have a chilling effect on free speech. Journalists won’t be able to protect their whistleblowers, businesses won’t be able to discuss business secrets remotely, targeted or marginalized groups may be at increased risk,” Ernestas Naprys, a senior journalist at Cybernews, says.
But in the episode, I retort: is total anonymity and privacy online even realistic anyway?
What is private, really? Do we think Chelsea Manning's and Edward Snowden's revelations are all there is? Do we think no one can read your chat or listen to your audio message? I don’t.
Besides, even if we are made to think that end-to-end encryption really is important for our privacy and protects us from both Big Brother and cybercrooks, the term "harvest now, decrypt later" comes to mind. What this means is that at some point, the encryption that we use today will probably be easily crackable in the future.
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