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UK government reportedly plans anti-encryption marketing campaign

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The UK state’s obsession with end-to-end encryption shows no sign of abating, with a questionable £0.5 million ad campaign set to be launched.

We have Rolling Stone to thank for the scoop. It got hold of some documents that indicate the UK government has hired ad agency M&C Saatchi to launch a publicity campaign designed to convince the public that end-to-end encryption, especially in direct messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, is bad.

As with most state attempts to curtail freedom and civil liberties, this power grab is being done in the name of safety. It seems the campaign will lazily draw on the ‘think of the children’ cliché, with dodgy-sounding ads featuring adults looking furtively at kids, apparently to imply that encryption facilitates child abuse.

“We have engaged M&C Saatchi to bring together the many organisations who share our concerns about the impact end-to-end encryption would have on our ability to keep children safe,” a Home Office spokesperson told Rolling Stone.

A Freedom of Information request sent last September by someone other than the author of the piece eventually got a response confirming the budget for this campaign is £534,000. It’s reasonable to question this expense at a time of such economic stress for the country but the bigger concern surrounds possible ulterior motives for this initiative.

The UK state has had a problem with encrypted messaging for years and there are indications it’s also responding to pressure from its allies (which usually means just the US). The perma-emergency attached to the Covid pandemic has served to significantly whet the appetite of governments around the world for increased surveillance powers. Encryption is a major impediment to that ambition but, in common with so many other government bright ideas over the past couple of years, this piece of ill-timed profligacy is likely to achieve nothing, at best.

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One comment

  1. Avatar Keith E Gould 17/01/2022 @ 3:53 pm

    Johnson sure knows ow to staff our money. £500k is small change compared to the spending power of the industry.

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