Popular instant messaging platform WhatsApp said it is ready to depart from the UK altogether rather than weaken its encryption standards under the country’s Online Safety Bill.
“We’ve recently been blocked in Iran, for example. But we’ve never seen a liberal democracy do that,” said Cathcart, told The Guardian. “The reality is, our users all around the world want security. Ninety-eight per cent of our users are outside the UK. They do not want us to lower the security of the product, and just as a straightforward matter, it would be an odd choice for us to choose to lower the security of the product in a way that would affect those 98% of users,” said WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart.
Just last month, the president of Signal, Meredith Whittaker, said that they would “absolutely 100 percent walk [away from the UK] rather than ever undermine the trust that people place in us to provide a truly private means of communication.”
UK’s Online Safety Bill requires companies to use “accredited technology” to scan users’ messages for child sexual abuse material or CSAM. Security researchers say it’s impossible to scan the messages without breaching end-to-end encryption (a privacy standard that only allows content of the messages to be viewed by the sender and receiver).
Apple also planned to use CSAM in 2021 to scan messages but dropped the idea after public criticism. UK’s Online Safety Bill is already being criticized for drawing a vague line between what’s illegal and unwanted content. The bill intends to expand the powers of the UK government and moderate content on online platforms.