(LifeSiteNews) — The passing of the U.K. Online Safety Bill this week marks the latest effort in a decades-long campaign by the British state to remove any obstacle to internet surveillance. With the bill being celebrated by the U.K. government as a world first in providing a “safer internet,” this forthcoming law provides for a future in which your messages, photos and emails will be scanned by state-mandated spyware.
The campaign to abolish your digital privacy has a long pedigree. Though many critics argue correctly that this bill provides for a level of intrusion that is currently impossible, this is not a bug, but a feature. As a feature, it is intended to kickstart the permanent destruction of the one thing which keeps you and your data safe from constant surveillance: encryption.
The long march against freedom
Few will even be aware of what tech insiders call the “first crypto war.” This was the 1990s battle between cryptographers and governments to secure the right to create digital encryption that could not be broken by state authorities.
Since then, governments in the U.K. and the U.S. have fought to undermine the right to privacy guaranteed by what is now known as end-to-end user encryption (EEUE), which is the means by which your personal information and communications remain private and secure.
Systems which rely on a form of this encryption include popular messaging apps, Protonmail, TOR, VPNs, web-based proxies, and cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin.
Before the FBI fought Apple in the courts over the provision of a “back door” into private messages, the U.K. government of Tony Blair used its influence in business and through the secret state to undermine encrypted data usage.
Blair’s government refused export licenses to British companies who refused to adopt weak encryption, a practice that was only ended in 1996.
Alongside this, the then-chief mathematician of U.K. intelligence headquarters GCHQ was tasked with the suppression of academic research into stronger encryption, and in one case personally attempted to bribe Cambridge University to halt the work of the leading British expert in the field.
Professor Ross Anderson, whose research was targeted for cancellation, showed this in his 2017 presentation.
The U.K. government has used everything in its power to halt encryption. Now that it is here, with end-to-end security on apps such as WhatsApp, iMessage and Signal, it has made a law to incentivize the permanent abolition of privacy.
A future of surveillance
If the assessment of various rights groups is not convincing, consider what the board of Element had to say. This U.K.-based cybersecurity firm provides its services to corporations, government and the military. Their April statement on the bill said, “What is proposed is not an Online Safety Bill; it is an Online Surveillance Bill. We stand united to resist an Orwellian landscape.”
The specious claims to child protection from sexual exploitation cannot be taken seriously, coming from a government which has funded and supported the explicit sexualization of children both online and offline.
In addition, the Orwellian dystopia would not be confined to Britain, as Element explained, and will likely serve as a template for global repression.
“The Bill poses an unprecedented threat to the privacy, safety and security of every U.K. citizen and the people with whom they communicate around the world, while emboldening hostile governments who may seek to draft copy-cat laws.”
In the final debate over the proposed law, the U.K. government appeared to concede to expert evidence that the technology to scan for harmful content in this way does not exist and cannot be implemented without undermining security. The Global Encryption Coalition, a group of experts and professionals in digital technology, stated, “Safe versions of these scanning technologies do not exist and are unlikely to ever exist.”
Their view echoes that of 70 organizations whose open letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of November 2022 warned the bill would make both “businesses and individuals less safe,” whilst undermining the “basis of a free society.”
Objections to the bill on technical grounds reduced to two points: any attempt to reduce privacy reduces security, and that the bill provides powers for which no technology exists to enforce them – yet.
The online rights campaign group the Electronic Freedom Foundation reported on this change, which conceded that “…orders to scan user files can be issued only where technically feasible.”
Again, the power to determine this “feasibility” lies with Ofcom, a government body formerly charged with monitoring standards in television and radio broadcasts.
As tech news outlet Wired reported earlier this month, the fact that this “spy clause” remains in the bill means the U.K. government will simply implement the technology when it is developed. The Wired report concluded with a sobering message from one leading expert.
“Nothing has changed,” says Matthew Hodgson, CEO of Element, which supplies end-to-end encrypted messaging to militaries and governments. “It’s only what’s actually written in the bill that matters.”
He pointed out, along with many other sources, that “Scanning is fundamentally incompatible with end-to-end encrypted messaging apps. Scanning bypasses the encryption in order to scan, exposing your messages to attackers,” he continued. “So all ‘until it’s technically feasible’ means is opening the door to scanning in future rather than scanning today. It’s not a change, it’s kicking the can down the road.”
When safety is insecurity
The issue goes beyond the abolition of privacy. Digital technology experts have consistently warned that encryption cannot be broken without undermining security – for everyone, everywhere.
Susan Landau, Bridge Professor of Cyber Security and Policy at Tufts University explained this point in a 2018 presentation that this consequence was unavoidable, if invisible to policy makers.
“It is not obvious to legislators [and] non-techies,” she said, adding that “exceptional access obviously weakens security to some degree.”
What is meant by “exceptional access” is a built-in security bypass for government and law enforcement. Known as a “back door,” this means of access for government agencies into your private communications will also allow non-government actors such as criminals creating “exploits” to access them. Any “back door” will be open to anyone with the time and skills to unlock it, wherever in the world these apps are used.
The people who have made this law appear to be chasing a long-term dream of the total abolition of digital privacy. This law will be added to others, vague in definition but broad in scope, which have effectively criminalized journalism itself, along with the public profession of Christianity and led to the prosecution of record numbers of children as terrorists. Both outcomes resulted from laws we were told were being put in place for our own protection – to make us “safe.”
Increasingly, what is required in Britain is not more legislation to make us safe, but some safety from those who seek to “protect” us. As soon as they have the technology, there will be no refuge ever again from the lidless eye of the law.