New form of encryption could threaten the ability to block child sexual abuse material say MPs and Peers in today’s Sunday Times
Nineteen of the Internet Watch Foundation’s Parliamentary Champions and supporters have written an open letter to the Secretary of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Rt. Hon. Nicky Morgan MP, in today’s Sunday Times. The letter copied below sets out their concerns about the new encryption standard known as DNS over HTTPs. It further sets out the impact that this would have on the technical tools of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and urges the Secretary of State to address this issue in the forthcoming legislation on online harms. We have also attached below a longer version of the letter and wider briefing on the issue for further information.
Letter as printed in the Sunday Times, 11th August 2019:
Dear Secretary of State,
We are deeply concerned that a new form of encryption being introduced to our web browsers will have terrible consequences for child protection.
The new system — known as DNS over HTTPS — would have the effect of undermining the work of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF); yet Mozilla, providers of the browser Firefox, has decided to introduce it, and others may follow.
The amount of abusive content online is huge and not declining. In 2018, the IWF removed over 105,000 web pages showing the sexual abuse of children. While the UK has an excellent record in eliminating the hosting of such illegal content, there is still a significant demand from UK internet users: The National Crime Agency estimates there are 144,000 UK users on some of the worst dark web child sexual abuse sites.
To fight this, the IWF provides a URL blocklist, which allows internet service providers to block internet users from accessing known child sexual abuse content until it is taken down by the host country. The deployment of the new encryption system in its proposed form could render this service obsolete, exposing millions of people to the worst imagery of children being sexually abused, and the victims of said abuse to countless sets of eyes.
Advances in protecting users’ data must not come at the expense of children. We urge the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport to address this issue in the government’s forthcoming legislation on online harms.