Weakening encryption of secure messaging apps in online safety legislation will damage public trust in technology, IT professionals have warned.

The Online Safety Bill comes to the House of Lords for scrutiny on Wednesday 19 April. It contains wide-ranging legislation that aims to regulate internet content to keep people safe.

The bill will give media regulator Ofcom powers to demand that online platforms identify and remove child abuse content, and refusal to comply could see companies face large fines.

WhatsApp, Signal and others have raised concerns about the bill, with some saying they would prefer to exit the UK market than attempt to comply.

BCS warns against endangering privacy

BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, is committed to ensuring technology is beneficial for the public and has said that it is vital that end-to-end encryption, which allows secure private messaging, is not undermined by the scanning of personal communication.

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Rashik Parmar MBE, Chief Executive of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT said: “It’s the wrong time to weaken encryption when it is vital to public trust in the value of technology.

‘Every genuine tech professional wants children to be safe online; but we need to guard the basic security that underpins everyone’s privacy.

‘There is grave concern that the Online Safety Bill’s requirements around identifying illegal content could break the principle of end-to-end encryption with the promise of a magical backdoor. Once a backdoor has been compromised, data and content protected by the encryption becomes accessible. This is exactly what many bad actors would welcome.

‘Building confidence in technology is a global priority in 2023. A bill aimed at keeping us safe online should protect encrypted messaging.’