WhatsApp and other messaging apps are against the concept of “surveillance.”

Messaging Apps, Including WhatsApp, Stand Against the Notion of “Surveillance”

Messaging services like WhatsApp and Signal, among others, have called on the government to reconsider the Online Safety Bill (OSB). Their concern stems from the potential impact of the bill on end-to-end encryption, a security feature that ensures messages can only be accessed by the sender and recipient within their respective apps, and remain inaccessible to anyone elseMinisters want the regulator to be able to ask the platforms to monitor users, to root out child abuse images. The government maintains that it is feasible to prioritize both privacy and child safety. A government official affirmed their support for robust encryption but emphasized that this should not compromise public safety. According to the official, tech companies bear a moral responsibility to prevent themselves and law enforcement from being oblivious to the alarming prevalence of child sexual abuse on their platforms. The Online Safety Bill, the official clarified, does not intend to ban end-to-end encryption nor impose requirements to weaken encryption within services.

‘Mass surveillance’

The most robust level of security is offered by end-to-end encryption (E2EE), ensuring that only the sender and intended recipient can access the message information. Even the app operator lacks the ability to decipher the messages passing through its systems, as only the chat participants possess the decryption keys.In an open letter released on Tuesday, operators of encrypted messaging apps caution against the notion of weakening encryption, undermining privacy, and implementing widespread surveillance on individuals’ private communications. The letter is signed by:Element chief executive Matthew Hodgson

Alex Linton, the director of Session, and the Oxen Privacy Tech Foundation.

Signal president Meredith Whittaker

Threema chief executive Martin Blatter

Viber chief executive Ofir Eyal

head of WhatsApp at Meta Will Cath cart

Wire chief technical officer Alan Duric

According to the letter, the current version of the Online Safety Bill (OSB) paves the way for “routine, general, and indiscriminate surveillance” of personal messages. The bill also poses the risk of encouraging hostile governments to adopt similar laws.

While the UK government suggests that technological solutions can be devised to scan messages without compromising the privacy of end-to-end encryption (E2EE), it is claimed that such solutions are not feasible.Mr. Hodgson, representing UK company Element, denounced the proposals as a “spectacular violation of privacy,” equating them to placing CCTV cameras in everyone’s bedrooms.WhatsApp’s Mr. Cath cart has informed BBC News that the platform would rather be blocked in the UK than compromise the privacy of encrypted messaging. Likewise, Ms. Whittaker of Signal stated that the app would “absolutely, 100% walk away” if encryption were undermined. Additionally, Swiss-based app Three-man categorically stated that any form of security weakening was “completely out of the question.”

Other companies have also expressed their reluctance to comply. Although email services are exempt, Proton, renowned for its encrypted email service, expressed concerns that features in its Drive product might fall within the scope of the bill. The company’s representative, Andy Yen, suggested that as a last resort, Proton could consider leaving the UK if the law is implemented without amendments, as it would be unable to sustain a service centered on user privacy. Lord Clement-Jones, the Liberal Democrat digital-economy spokesman supporting an amendment to the bill, emphasized the importance of preserving properly encrypted services. He expected Occom to issue a code of practice outlining how the law would be applied. Under the bill, Occom would have the authority to require companies to scan messages, including text, images, videos, and files, using “approved technology” to detect child sexual abuse material. However, the communications regulator indicated that it would do so only in cases of “urgent need” and would demand substantial evidence before implementing such technology in an encrypted environment. It is widely assumed that this would involve scanning messages on a device before encryption, a technique known as client-side scanning. However, many services argue that this would necessitate significant product re-engineering specifically for the UK market.

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