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Hello all, and happy Thursday!  

Last week, the UK Parliament passed the Online Safety Bill, or OSB. 

You might have heard about the OSB before—businesses and privacy advocacy groups alike have raised concerns around some of the bill’s provisions. In fact, nearly 70 cybersecurity academics published an open letter regarding their concerns about the OSB back in July. 

For the most part, the OSB is intended to regulate content platforms by requiring the removal of illegal content and additional protections for children. It requires providers to: 

  • Assess whether their service will be accessed by children, conduct risk assessments, and implement age verification mechanisms. 
  • Ensure children do not access illegal content (e.g. terrorist material) as well as “harmful but lawful” content, that could cause physical or psychological harm to children. 
  • Implement design choices and operational controls to minimize harm. 

The idea that content platforms need further regulation regarding the content that appears on them isn’t the controversial bit, however (though social media and messaging companies likely disagree); rather, it’s the OSB’s so-called “spy clause” that has everybody up in arms. 

Specifically, this clause permits British telecom regulators to force tech companies to scan all of their users for child abuse content—the issue here is that it also forces companies to scan messages and files that are end-to-end encrypted. In order to comply, businesses will need to build a backdoor into their encryption technology, providing access to ostensibly secure messaging services. 

 Nobody wants to enable the proliferation of content that could harm children, but nobody wants to sacrifice their privacy, either. Bills like this highlight a perennial question in data privacy: How do you balance safety with security and privacy?  

According to groups like the Electronic Frontiers Foundation, tech companies like Apple, and cybersecurity researchers, the OSB doesn’t quite strike the ideal balance. 




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