Govt suggests Brits should hand passports to social media companies

Block buttons would become mandatory under forthcoming Online Safety Bill, says DCMS


The British government has suggested its citizens should hand their passports over to Facebook as a condition for using the service.

The country's forthcoming Online Safety Bill will require citizens to hand over even more personal data to largely foreign-headquartered social media platforms, government minister Nadine Dorries has declared.

"The vast majority of social networks used in the UK do not require people to share any personal details about themselves – they are able to identify themselves by a nickname, alias or other term not linked to a legal identity," said Dorries, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Another legal duty to be imposed on social media platforms will be a requirement to give users a "block" button, something that has been part of most of today's platforms since their launch.

"When it comes to verifying identities," said DCMS in a statement, "some platforms may choose to provide users with an option to verify their profile picture to ensure it is a true likeness. Or they could use two-factor authentication where a platform sends a prompt to a user's mobile number for them to verify."

"Alternatively," continued the statement, "verification could include people using a government-issued ID such as a passport to create or update an account."

Two-factor authentication is a login technology to prevent account hijacking by malicious people, not a method of verifying a user's government-approved identity.

"People will now have more control over who can contact them and be able to stop the tidal wave of hate served up to them by rogue algorithms," said Dorries.

Social networks offering services to Britons don't currently require lots of personal data to register as a user. Most people see this as a benefit; the government seems to see it as a negative.

Today's statement had led to widespread concerns that DCMS will place UK residents at greater risk of online identity theft or of falling victim to a data breach.

The Online Safety Bill was renamed from the Online Harms Bill shortly before its formal introduction to Parliament. Widely accepted as a disaster in the making by the technically literate, critics have said the bill risks creating an "algorithm-driven censorship future" through new regulations that would make it legally risky for platforms not to proactively censor users' posts.

It is also closely linked to strong rhetoric discouraging end-to-end encryption rollouts for the sake of "minors", and its requirements would mean that tech platforms attempting to comply would have to weaken security measures.

Parliamentary efforts at properly scrutinising the draft bill then led to the "scrutineers" instead publishing a manifesto asking for even more stronger legal weapons be included.

Proponents of the bill say that the current state of social media is unacceptable, with all kinds of grisly and abusive posts, pictures and videos only ever a few clicks away.

Critics say ordinary users will find themselves at risk as they are forced to trade ever more of their valuable personal data just to keep on living their online lives as they have done for the past 15 years. ®


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