Tech companies in the UK could face huge fines if they fail to adopt cutting-edge technology to spot child sexual abuse material. The UK government, through the Online Safety Bill, seeks to protect the safety of users, as well as their right to privacy and freedom of expression. The government doesn’t want to censor anyone or restrict free speech.
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, said the Online Safety Bill sets a clear legal duty to prevent, identify and remove child sexual abuse content, irrespective of the technologies they use. She has rolled the ball to tech companies saying that the onus is on them to develop or source technology to mitigate the risks.
If the companies fail to deploy the appropriate technological solutions, they can face fines up to £18 million or 10% of the company’s global annual turnover. The UK government supports innovation and wants to drive the development of effective safety technologies across the industry. It wants to make sure that offenders have nowhere to hide online.
The Home Secretary believes that if end-to-end encryption is implemented without the relevant safety mitigations in place, it will become much harder. Patel said it will significantly reduce tech companies and law enforcement’s ability to detect child sexual abuse happening online – and this is just unacceptable. Child safety and tech experts say it’s possible to implement end-to-end encryption in a way that preserves users’ right to privacy and ensures children remain safe online.
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With the Online Safety Bill, the government wants to help ensure that tech companies, working with children protection organizations and law enforcement provide the best possible protection to children from those who prey on them while maintaining privacy at the same time.
Meanwhile, Facebook rebranded as Meta has been preparing to introduce end-to-end encryption for Messenger and Instagram apps. But there has been strong criticism from the UK government. Patel has been a longstanding critic of Mark Zuckerberg’s plans. She said the change in the law balanced the need to protect children while providing privacy for online users. Patel outlined that privacy and security are not mutually exclusive. Both are needed.
Ofcom, a communications watchdog, under the proposed amendment would be able to demand that tech firms deploy or develop new technology. The amendment tightens an existing clause that proposes giving Ofcom the power to require the deployment of accredited technology. This would require companies to use their best endeavors to develop or use new technologies if no such tool is available or suitable for the platform.