If the government’s planned Internet Safety Bill compromised the app’s end-to-end encryption, WhatsApp would leave the U.K. market, the platform’s chief has stated (via BBC News).
Thanks to end-to-end encryption, only the user and the person they are communicating with can read or listen to what is sent. Nobody in the middle, including Meta or Facebook, can access this information. Government officials and certain organizations who support child protection say that such encryption makes it more difficult to address the rising issue of online child abuse.
According to the proposed legislation, WhatsApp could be required to follow content moderation guidelines that can only be applied if end-to-end encryption is disabled. WhatsApp might be fined up to 4% of the yearly revenue of its parent company, Meta, if it refuses to comply.
Meta’s president of WhatsApp, Will Cathcart, said the company would refuse to comply if asked to reduce its encryption because doing so would affect all users during a U.K. visit during which he would meet politicians to discuss the government’s internet regulation.
He said that because most of the app’s users are located outside of the United Kingdom, they would rather that the app be prohibited in that country rather than have its security compromised. “Other countries, including Iran, have just begun blocking us. That’s something no free and open society has ever done before.”
App for encrypted messaging Meredith Whittaker, president of Signal, recently said that if the legislation required message scanning, the company “would absolutely, 100% walk” and cease providing service in the United Kingdom.
When asked by the BBC if he would go as far as Signal, Cathcart replied: “We won’t compromise WhatsApp’s security. We have never done that and have become used to being restricted elsewhere globally.”
When a liberal democracy asks, “Is it OK to monitor everyone’s private communication for criminal content?” it gives other nations with very different notions of what constitutes illegal content the confidence to make a similar proposal, according to Cathcart.
According to communication regulator Ofcom, WhatsApp is the most widely used messaging app in the U.K., utilized by more than seven out of ten online users.
This summer, parliament is anticipated to revisit the U.K. government’s Internet Safety Bill.