Last week, the UK Online Safety Bill passed its third reading in the House of Lords. This Bill means the end of end-to-end encryption and an end to online privacy for Britons.
It implies mass government surveillance of any internet available to users within the UK and its reach expands to any internet platform providing services to people in the UK. It would enable the UK government to implement similar surveillance to what China, Russia and others have forced on the internet within their borders.
A liberal democracy should be condemning such surveillance measures – not implementing them.
The following is a blog published by Proton on 5 September 2023.
The UK Parliament is set to finalise a bill this month that threatens privacy and freedom of speech at a fundamental level. We had hoped for last-minute amendments to be tabled protecting encryption and privacy, but based on information coming from Parliament at the time of writing, this now appears to be a lost cause. The Online Safety Bill is intended to protect people from online abuse, but the law as written would instead empower the UK government to break end-to-end encryption and monitor the most private aspects of your digital life.
Proton, along with much of the tech industry, has condemned the Online Safety Bill, specifically, the clauses that would undermine end-to-end encryption. But politicians have been unwilling to listen, and there looks to be little hope for crucial changes that could save encryption.
[Also read ‘UK ministers seek to allay WhatsApp and Signal concerns in encryption row’, Guardian, 6 September 2023]
As it stands, the Online Safety Bill is one of the most concerning pieces of legislation to come out of the West in years. It would open the door to mass surveillance of the type and scale that Edward Snowden exposed in 2013. The British government would essentially be outlawing private conversations of any kind online, which is an affront to human rights and will likely put Britons in more danger, not less.
The bill is due to have its final review in the House of Lords on 6 September. Regrettably, it appears the House of Lords didn’t take this final opportunity to table any amendments that would protect encryption. So, it looks highly likely the bill will pass as it stands, along with its threats to break encryption. While the bill still hasn’t been completely finalised by Parliament, assuming it passes into law as drafted, we’re now counting on Ofcom (new window) to work closely with the industry to mitigate some of the worst effects this bill could have on privacy.
[Update: On 6 September, the House of Lords passed the Bill. It is now in the final stages of preparation to receive Royal Assent. Weak statements by government ministers, such as the hedging from Lord Parkinson during last week’s debate, are no substitute for real privacy rights. Nothing in the law’s text has changed. Read more: ‘The UK Government Knows How Extreme the Online Safety Bill Is’.]
Proton won’t accept the Online Safety Bill
We would be willing to aggressively defend the right to privacy in the courts as we have successfully done in Switzerland. However, we won’t do anything to put the Proton community at risk. As a company that puts privacy and security above all else, we refuse to do anything that undermines our encryption or our users’ rights, and we plan on continuing to serve the Proton community in the UK, regardless of what happens with the bill.