The Boris Johnson era bill is slowly making its way through Parliament, stirring protest along the way.
WhatsApp’s chief executive says that the chat platform will not compromise their “end-to-end” encryption process, which may lead to the app being blocked in the UK, according to Silicon Angle.
End-to-end encryption is used in messaging services to prevent anyone but the recipients of a communication from being able to decrypt it. WhatsApp cannot read messages sent over its own service, and so cannot comply with law enforcement requests to hand over messages, or pleas to actively monitor communications for child protection or antiterror purposes.
Under the UK’s new Online Safety Bill, which was first introduced by Boris Johnson’s government, end-to-end encryption will be forbidden. Will Cathcart, WhatsApp’s boss, was talking with reporters while on a trip to the UK to speak with legislators. He said that if he cannot find a way around the bill’s encryption prohibition, the chat app “will be gone”.
WhatsApp is by far the most popular chat app in the UK, used by 7 out of 10 adults.
WhatsApp must hold the line
Cathcart stated that the new measures the UK is imposing is “one of the worrying pieces of legislation on the planet right now”, because it might lead to similar measures being adopted elsewhere. The legislation, which is meant to prevent child abuse material being sent over the internet, carries significant enforcement mechanisms. It’s enaction could mean WhatsApp either agrees to mass surveillance by removing end-to-end encryption when asked, or Meta faces the possibility of being fined 4% of its annual revenue.
The UK is simply not a large enough market to influence WhatsApp’s parent, Meta, in this matter, Cathcart explained. “The reality is, our users all around the world want security”, he said. “Ninety-eight percent 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”.