Online Safety Bill: Spy clause could force Signal to pull services from UK

Messaging app Signal has announced that it will withdraw its services from the UK if it is forced to undermine encryption through proposals in the Online Safety Bill. 

Dr Monica Horten, policy manager, freedom of expression, said: 

“The spy clause in the Online Safety Bill will give Ofcom the power to ask private companies to scan everyone’s private messages on behalf of the government. Quite simply, it is state-mandated private surveillance of the kind that we see in authoritarian regimes.

“Signal’s announcement highlights just how seriously these proposals will threaten encryption and undermine our right to communicate securely and privately. 

“If Signal withdraws its services from the UK, it will particularly harm journalists, campaigners and activists who rely on end-to-end encryption to communicate safely.

“We urge the government to drop the spy clause now.”

The spy clause in the Online Safety Bill could enable the scanning of private messages sent through WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, Facebook Messenger and iMessage, and direct messages sent through platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Under the government’s proposals, services that use end-to-end encryption will have to compromise their encryption in order to scan the content of messages. They could force companies like WhatsApp, Facebook and Signal to install ‘government accredited’ software on people’s phone, which can scan their private messages.

ORG welcomes amendments by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Clement-Jones, who has asked the government to examine the implications of the duty to prevent or takedown content communicated privately.

Read ORG’s briefing on the impact of these proposals.