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United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Science, Innovation, and Technology Michelle Donelan has denied earlier implications that the Online Safety Bill would no longer be pushed. According to the tech ministry, this pursuit of obliterating child abuse materials on platforms continues, and the government could even require companies to create a tech that will scan encrypted messages for such content.

The news came as Donelan’s response to the statement of Stephen Parkinson, a current member of the House of Lords, who seemed to provide a statement implying that the government changed its mind about the bill. Financial Times reported it earlier, quoting Parkinson:

The UK government will concede it will not use controversial powers in the online safety bill to scan messaging apps for harmful content until it is “technically feasible” to do so, postponing measures that critics say threaten users’ privacy.

A planned statement to the House of Lords on Wednesday afternoon will mark an eleventh-hour bid by ministers to end a stand-off with tech companies, including WhatsApp, that have threatened to pull their services from the UK over what they claimed was an intolerable threat to millions of users’ security.

However, Donelan denied the idea to Times Radio (via Reuters) and even suggested that the government might even push tech companies for a tech dedicated to scanning encrypted messages.

“We haven’t changed the bill at all,” Donelan said. “If there was a situation where the mitigations that the social media providers are taking are not enough, and if after further work with the regulator they still can’t demonstrate that they can meet the requirements within the bill, then the conversation about technology around encryption takes place.”

In line with that, the minister admitted that developing the tech needs more work. Donelan claimed government-funded research already proved it but didn’t provide any proof to support this.

In case finalized, a requirement in the bill would allow the authorities to view child abuse or terrorism content or others even if they are sent through end-to-end encrypted services. 

However, the policy was welcomed with strong protest by tech giants like Apple’s iMessage, WhatsApp, and Signal, which threatened to exit the UK market if it materializes.

Nonetheless, the end of the bill isn’t the end of the issue for the said companies. To recall, there’s still the proposed amendment in the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) 2016, which should give the authorities massive power over tech companies and their operations.

In case it passes, the changes will require companies to first inform the Home Office regarding changes in the security features of their products before releasing them. It also obliges non-UK-based companies to comply with changes that would affect their product globally, including providing a backdoor to end-to-end encryption. Lastly, the changes will push companies to follow the order of the Home Office to disable or block a security feature immediately without having the option to appeal this or request a review. More recently, it has also been reported that the act can ask companies to stop rolling out updates in order for the government to continue its surveillance activities on user’s devices.


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