United Kingdom users may be out of luck when it comes to messaging clients, with both WhatsApp and Signal prepared to leave.
The UK is currently working to pass its Online Safety Bill, a piece of legislation that virtually all critics say would have a devastating impact on encryption and online security. Proponents of the bill have been accused of “magical thinking,” in which they believe encryption can be selectively weakened to catch bad guys.
The UK’s government is
WhatsApp and Signal have both come out saying they will refuse to weaken their encryption, a decision that would lead to them leaving the UK.
“It’s a remarkable thing to think about,” said Will Cathcart, Meta’s head of WhatsApp, via The Guardian. “There isn’t a way to change it in just one part of the world. Some countries have chosen to block it: that’s the reality of shipping a secure product. We’ve recently been blocked in Iran, for example. But we’ve never seen a liberal democracy do that.
“The reality is, our users all around the world want security,” added Cathcart. “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.”
Similarly, Signal President Meredith Whittaker told the BBC: “We would absolutely 100% walk rather than ever undermine the trust that people place in us to provide a truly private means of communication.
“We have never weakened our privacy promises, and we never would.”
For its part, the British Home Office is recycling the age-old argument that there must be some way to protect privacy and simultaneously undermine it for the sake of catching criminals.
“It is important that technology companies make every effort to ensure that their platforms do not become a breeding ground for paedophiles,” the Home Office stated.
“The Online Safety Bill does not represent a ban on end-to-end encryption but makes clear that technological changes should not be implemented in a way that diminishes public safety – especially the safety of children online.
“It is not a choice between privacy or child safety – we can and we must have both.”
Unfortunately, as mathematicians, programmers, computer experts, privacy advocates, and many lawmakers have stated, that’s simply not how encryption works.
“Encryption is either protecting everyone or it is broken for everyone,” Whitaker added.
That fundamental law of mathematics is why Germany has come out opposed to a similar measure making its way through the EU, instead emphasizing the need to bolster traditional investigative methods to compensate.