UK’s Online Safety Bill Receives Royal Assent, Imperilling Digital Rights

It’s the moment British digital rights advocates have dreaded. The UK’s Online Safety Bill is now law.

The UK Online Safety Bill is a bill no more. Last month, we reported on the bill’s passage, effectively making it the law of the land. Now that it has received royal assent, it is the law of the land.

The legislation represented a major threat to digital rights. Whether it was through the anti-encryption provisions or privacy threatening age verification requirements, the safety and security of British citizens have been drastically reduced. In fact, the bill is so bad, companies are threatening to leave the UK if they are ordered to violate the privacy of their customers.

Now, we’ll apparently find out just how damaging this bill ultimately is. From the BBC:

After years of debate, the government’s controversial Online Safety Bill, which aims to make the internet safer for children, has become law.

It seeks to force tech firms to take more responsibility for the content on their platforms.

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said it “ensures the online safety of British society not only now, but for decades to come.”

But critics have raised concerns about the implications for privacy.

WhatsApp is among the messaging services to threaten to withdraw from the UK over the act.

There are, of course, broader implications for citizens around the world. If a service originates from the UK, then you have to assume the information that is encrypted has been compromised at this point. Further, other countries looking to push similar bad laws (such as age verification laws) will likely hold up the UK as an example of why such laws need to be passed. In the UK, anyone being critical of this law have been called many things including “extreme libertarians“, so you can expect such debates to be far from informed for those pushing these laws.

Moving forward, the ball will now be in the court of Ofcom, the British regulator tasked with enforcing this. There is a great deal of skepticism that this will go well. After all, it is being tasked with a number of fools errands such as breaking encryption without breaking encryption and making everyone on the internet stop saying mean things. That’s not even getting into the history of the regulator and what it likely will do with this huge mess.

Still, one thing is for sure: privacy rights advocates and security experts are in a state of mourning over all of this. Many in the UK will no doubt be all too happy to tell other countries to not do what they did. Ensuring those messages don’t ultimately fall on deaf ears in other governments, however, will likely prove to be very difficult.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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