The House of Lords is discussing the Online Safety Bill. This bill, if passed, could allow Ofcom to demand tech companies to scan all private online messages, which critics fear could lead to mass surveillance.
While the government and children’s charities argue this is necessary to combat child abuse, campaigners worry about the infringement of privacy rights. They are urging peers to reject these surveillance powers and protect privacy. After this debate, the bill could become law in September without further changes.
A controversial part of the bill, Clause 111 or the “spy clause“, has been heavily debated. It allows Ofcom to demand tech firms scan messages for illegal content. But tech companies argue that this would require a “backdoor” into their technologies, compromising security and privacy.
Various amendments to limit the government’s powers are being considered. The government has proposed amendment 256A, suggesting a “skilled person” should justify technology notices. Critics worry about who this person would be, and whether they would be linked to the government, potentially reinstating surveillance powers.