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UK's Proposed Online Safety Bill Sparks Concerns over Privacy and Encryption

Key Takeaways
  • UK's proposed Online Safety Bill threatens privacy and end-to-end encryption, causing major tech companies to consider leaving the country
  • The bill aims to hold tech companies accountable for ensuring online child safety and regulating access to adult content
05-May-2023 By: Sudeep Saxena
UK's Proposed Online


The UK's proposed Online Safety Bill has been causing concern among tech players and privacy advocates alike. 

The bill, written by the governing Conservative Party, has reached the committee stage within the House of Lords and is on track to become law this summer. The bill would impose a range of restrictions on online activity and enable the UK's communications regulator, OFCOM, to effectively prohibit end-to-end encryption. 

This presents a serious threat to the privacy of UK citizens and has already led industry leaders like WhatsApp, Signal, and Wikipedia to say they plan to leave the country if the bill passes.

In an open letter last month, the tech companies expressed their concerns, stating that:

"We don’t think any company, government, or person should have the power to read your personal messages." 

According to a letter signed by industry leaders, including WhatsApp and Signal, the proposed bill could potentially breach end-to-end encryption and lead to general and indiscriminate surveillance of personal messages, undermining the ability to communicate securely.

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Signal and WhatsApp have already announced their plans to pull out of the country rather than comply with the new rules. Telegram, which is popular in the crypto community, is also likely to be affected by the new law. Restrictions on its use could hinder the UK's goal of becoming a crypto hub.

In addition to affecting private messaging apps, the proposed UK legislation also aims to hold tech companies accountable for ensuring the safety of children online. This includes preventing access to harmful content and enforcing age limits. Companies must remove "legal but harmful" content that goes against their terms of service. However, this aspect of the law has faced criticism from Wikipedia, which has publicly stated that it would rather leave the UK than comply with the new regulations.

The bill has undergone a long four years journey to get this far. It started as a response to a 14-year-old's tragic suicide in 2017, which highlighted the risks posed by children having access to online content that promotes self-harm. However, critics believe that the response has been an overreaction and that the bill's provisions could lead to an erosion of privacy and online freedoms.

The UK's Conservative Party has historically taken a more authoritarian stance on online regulation compared to other Western countries and has attempted to regulate access to pornography on multiple occasions over the past decade. 

If the Online Safety Bill is passed, adult websites will be required to implement age verification or risk facing fines of up to 10% of their global revenue or website censorship in severe cases. The proposed legislation poses a significant threat to the concepts of online privacy and freedom, and its implications for both UK citizens and businesses are yet to be fully understood.

Also, Read - Deloitte Partners with Polkadot’s to Enhance KYC Processes


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