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UK insists on device scanning for child abuse material

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The UK government is proposing legislation requiring WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Apple’s Messages to automatically scan for child sexual abuse material.

The proposal from controversial Interior Minister Priti Patel, also known as child sexual abuse and exploitation content, aims to change the country’s digital security laws.

It follows Patel’s praise of the moves of Apple’s Child Sexual Abuse Materials (CSAM) it published after the company had slowed down instead the technology. According to the guardthe also follows Patel’s criticism of Mark Zuckerberg’s plans to add end-to-end encryption to Instagram and Messenger.

“Sexual abuse of children is a sickening crime,” Patel said. “We all need to work to ensure that criminals don’t rampage online and technology companies need to play their part and take responsibility for keeping our children safe.”

“Privacy and security are not mutually exclusive,” she continued, “we need both, and we can have both and that’s what this amendment delivers.”

The proposal would affect big tech companies such as Apple and Google. However, it is not under the auspices of the UK’s great tech regulator – because it was formed without any powers

Instead, Patel’s proposal is for a change in the law that would give the country’s Ofcom communications regulator more powers. The proposal is expected to become law after it returns to parliament later in July.

If so, Ofcom could impose fines of up to 10% of a company’s global revenue or $21.4 million, whichever is higher.

Ofcom already has the authority to require companies to deploy so-called ‘accredited technology’. The change would reinforce that by requiring companies to use “best efforts” to use or develop new technology to do this job.

Those previous Ofcom regulations applied to how the UK requires cloud services to scan for CSAM content. The key element of the amendment is that they now also have to scan secure messages.

Consequently, companies should either produce an on-device scanning system or introduce in-flight message scanning. The latter would thus break end-to-end encryption.

Apple delayed its CSAM technology after criticism from security expertsincluding those who have developed a CSAM scanning system.

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