Child sexual abuse is a serious problem. Is it a sufficient reason to put an end to encrypted messaging?
To keep children from accessing online pornography, age verification is necessary. But age verification is very difficult to reconcile with anonymity. So it would be likely that anonymous access would disappear for adults too. That would be a serious privacy risk. Worse, what about sites such as reddit.com, or x.com (twitter.com), with some adult-oriented content? Would everyone have to be age-verified for those too? That would mean ones anonymity as a poster to these sites could easily be stripped by a court order.
One approach is to have adults use VPNs, on the theory that you have to have a credit/debit card to set up a VPN. But some minors have these too, and, perhaps more relevant, many adults do not.
England is in the process of requiring age verification for pornography, although they've tried (and mostly failed) to figure out the anonymity thing. Louisiana now requires age verification, and they do not care about anonymity, or even universal adult access.
This combines bans on underage access to "harmful material" with potential bans on any end-to-end encrypted messaging. The bill's description of "harmful material" does appear to extend to sites such as reddit.com and x.com. Any online thread about dieting, for example, would be covered if the thread includes posts acknowledging eating disorders.
The end-to-end-encryption issue, in the so-called "spy clause", is that all messages must be "scanned" for harmful content, especially "child-sexual-abuse material" or CSAM. This scanning must be done before encryption, of course, which basically means that every message is examined by the government before encryption. This would be the end of the use of end-to-end encryption for privacy.
On Sept 6, 2023, Lord Parkinson of Ofcom, the UK government communications regulator, said
if the appropriate technology doesn’t exist which meets those requirements, then Ofcom will not be able to use clause 122 to require its use.
This has been read as a victory for opponents of the Spy Clause, but the law itself does not change, and the government could later change its mind. The technology does exist to force all "providers" of secure messaging to scan the message before sending it. While that effectively breaks end-to-end encryption, it doesn't mean the government will care.
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