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British Government Backpedals on Controversial Messaging App Surveillance



In a major concession, the UK government has delayed implementing controversial powers granted under the Online Safety Bill to scan private messages for harmful content. Junior minister Lord Parkinson confirmed the tech regulator Ofcom would only require companies to monitor messaging apps once adequate technology emerges.

The bill represents one of the most aggressive attempts globally to hold tech firms accountable for online content. But companies like WhatsApp fiercely opposed provisions enabling Ofcom to compel them to surveil encrypted messages, threatening to withdraw from the UK over privacy and security concerns.

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Experts believe effective scanning technology that doesn’t undermine encryption could take years to develop, if at all. “A notice can only be issued where technically feasible,” Parkinson explained, emphasizing minimum accuracy standards must be met.

For now, the government’s reversal appears aimed at resolving the tech industry standoff. Signal’s president called it “a victory” in shaping Ofcom’s framework, although not an outright win. WhatsApp reiterated its commitment to protecting encryption, arguing scanning messages fundamentally erodes privacy.

Critics contend current scanning technologies often produce errors and require human review, exposing private communications. Child safety advocates urge the government and tech firms to keep investing in solutions that balance user protections.

While the delay defuses tensions, the surveillance debate will likely reignite once better technologies emerge. For now, backtracking demonstrates the government’s proposed powers stretched beyond technical realities, risking unintended harm. But the reprieve may be temporary unless balanced solutions emerge.

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Shanaz Khan
Shanaz Khan
Shanaz Khan, Co-founder, COO & UK Editorial Lead

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