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EU to vote on Chat Control law that would all-but end message encyption

The European Union, which has become increasingly meddlesome in the technology realm in recent years, will vote on Thursday on a proposal requiring messaging apps to scan users’ private communications.

The proposed new regulation has echoes of previous UK goverment and (independently) Apple’s failed attempts to introduce a system to scan messages for child sexual abuse material (CSAM). Apple dropped the plans after objections from privacy advocates and fellow messaging apps like WhatsApp, while the UK government backed away from its scheme.

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The would-be Chat Control law would require users of popular messaging apps like WhatsApp, Signal and iMessage to agree to new terms and conditions allowing images and URLs within their chats to be scanned by the app maker.

Naturally, app makers and concerned privacy advocates are vehemently against the plans, with Signal releasing a statement saying it’ll force communications to be passed through a surveillance system.

“Mandating mass scanning of private communications fundamentally undermines encryption. Full Stop,” said Meredith Whittaker, president of the Signal Foundation (via Hacker News).

“Whether this happens via tampering with, for instance, an encryption algorithm’s random number generation, or by implementing a key escrow system, or by forcing communications to pass through a surveillance system before they’re encrypted.”

The EU have assured that “detection technologies must only be used for the purpose of detecting child sexual abuse. Providers will have to deploy technologies that are the least privacy-intrusive in accordance with the state of the art in the industry, and that limit the error rate of false positives to the maximum extent possible.”

Last autumn the UK backed away from similar proposals within the Online Safety Bill to build a privacy backdoor and undermine the end-to-end encryption of conversations. WhatsApp and Signal threatened to withdraw their apps from the UK market over the proposal.

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