Online Safety Bill loophole opens door to unprecedented investigatory powers
On 11 September, the House of Commons will review the Online Safety Bill for the first time in nine months
06 Sep 23

Photo: Victoria Heath/Unsplash

A new report from Index on Censorship raises the alarm proposed legislation that could lead to unprecedented and chilling surveillance of British citizens under the Investigatory Powers Act.

Clause 122 of the Online Safety Bill provides Ofcom the means to break encrypted messaging services through ‘technology notices’ served without legal oversight. Once ‘Accredited Technology’ is used to break encryption, the Home Office has the power to use “bulk surveillance warrants” under the Investigatory Powers Act: providing access to encrypted private messages en masse for the first time.

Without urgent clarification in Parliament, there is a risk that security services such as MI5 can compel technology companies who operate encrypted messaging services to interfere with user communications or acquire masses of data in secret. There is no clarity to date on whether Ofcom would be notified under such circumstances nor whether Ofcom themselves could be subjected to a bulk surveillance warrant as a result of the data insights they gain in their role as an independent regulator.

The long-standing campaign against the use of encryption technology has now seemingly culminated in a two-pronged legislative attack against British rights to privacy and freedom of expression. This report outlines the (1) meaning of new enforcement powers under the Online Safety Bill, (2) the Surveillance Gateway that is being opened, (3) proposed reforms to the Investigatory Powers Act and (4) the key questions that Parliament urgently needs answers on.

On Monday, 11 September 2023, the House of Commons will review the Online Safety Bill for the first time in nine months in which they will decide whether they accept the Government’s amendments to introduce mass surveillance on British people and to sign off on a massive curtailment of journalistic freedoms.

Download the report here or read it below.