UK has not backed down in tech encryption row, minister says

Over the past few days, there have been a lot of reports in the media that the UK government was backing down from its requirement that every end-to-end encrypted messenger application inside the country had to give the government backdoor access to these messenger applications. However, after reading the actual words from the UK’s junior minister Stephen Parkinson, it seemed like all she did was give a “pinky promise!” not to enforce this requirement. The law itself did not change, is not changing, and will not change, and the requirement is still in there.

Today, the UK’s technology minister Michelle Donelan made that even clearer than it already was.

Donelan, however, denied on Thursday that the bill had been watered down in the final stages before it becomes law.

“We haven’t changed the bill at all,” she told Times Radio.

“If there was a situation where the mitigations that the social media providers are taking are not enough, and if after further work with the regulator they still can’t demonstrate that they can meet the requirements within the bill, then the conversation about technology around encryption takes place,” she said.

This raises an interesting question – why was everyone so keen on pushing the narrative yesterday that the “technology sector” had won, and that the UK government had backed down? Well, Facebook and Apple have kind of talked themselves into a corner in response to the UK’s requirement for backdoor access to WhatsApp and iMessage. The two companies threatened they would pull these services out of the UK if the government didn’t remove this requirement. When it became clear that the UK government wasn’t going to back down, Facebook and Apple were going to lose a lot of face if they didn’t actually pull WhatsApp and iMessage out of the UK in response. They needed something to get them out of this.

This vague pinky promise is all they needed. Now they can shit all over their supposed morals and values once again, completely abandon their grandstanding and promises about protecting end-to-end encryption in messaging, and continue to operate in the UK as if nothing has changed, despite them legally being obligated to break end-to-end encryption if the UK government asks them to – which they can now do whenever it pleases them.

And entirely unsurprisingly, the general tech media, ever looking to please the corporations they are supposed to do the journalism stuff about, fell for it, hook, line, and sinker. The narrative that the UK backed down and Facebook and Google won is out there now, and that’s all the tech sector needed.


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