ORG signs joint civil society statement defending encryption

Open Rights Group has signed onto a joint civil society statement expressing concerns over proposals by the UK government which would undermine encryption, including through its Online Harms Bill. 

The statement follows the findings of a recent survey which showed that only 29% of the public feel comfortable with the prospect of companies being able to access their private messages to try and identify illegal or harmful content, compared to 52% who said that they were uncomfortable about this.

The Online Harms Bill, which is expected to be introduced early next year, will impose a range of new obligations on large platforms, small businesses, and everyday service providers to regulate online content in the UK. This will be done through the imposition of a “duty of care” which will cover both illegal and “legal but harmful” content, and will be enforced through a regulatory body.

The framework’s supporters are adamant that the Bill’s scope, as well as the regulatory enforcement regime, must include personal and private messaging communications, and must also introduce either a ban or a conditional regulatory licensing system for the use of encryption.

The joint statement calls on the UK government:

  • To ensure that the Online Harms Bill, and any duty of care or codes of practices established through the legislation, do not require or encourage companies to compromise their use of encryption;
  • Do not place any conditions, or impose any additional potential liability, on an online platform in connection with its use of encryption; and include explicit exemptions for encrypted and private communications;
  • To use alternative methods of investigation, including existing capabilities and powers, to identify illegal behaviour online, provided that they comply with the UK’s international and national human rights obligations;
  • To cease other efforts to weaken or undermine encryption beyond the scope of the Online Harms Bill, including the creation of backdoors or establishing a ghost user presence in specific encryption tools; and
  • To promote the use of strong encryption nationally and internationally, as a critical element of privacy and security, and particularly in countries and contexts where people’s safety would otherwise be put at risk.

You can view the full civil society statement here. Signatories include ORG, Article 19, Big Brother Watch, English Pen, Global Partners Digital, Index on Censorship, Privacy International, Reporters Sans Frontiers, and Scottish PEN.

Both civil society and the public are clear: government must keep its hands off our private and deeply personal communications. As the Bill progresses, Open Rights Group will continue to defend your right to privacy and freedom of expression online.

Learn more about the Online Harms Bill

Open Rights Group has been closely following the development of the bill since its introduction as a White Paper in 2019, and has engaged with government to highlight potential risks to freedom of expression and privacy. Our previous work on the framework includes:

1. Internet Regulation, ​Part I​ ​and ​Part II​
2. ​Blocked: Collateral Damage in the War against Online Harms
3. ​DNS Security: Getting It Right​

Consultation responses
1. White Paper response
2. Policy responses to White Paper
3. Open letter to Jeremy Wright QC

Blog posts
1. Encryption under attack
2. The Online Harms strategy must ‘design in’ fundamental rights
3. Winners, losers, and unanswered questions

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