WhatsApp and other messaging providers have criticised Britain’s planned internet safety legislation, which would require tech companies to breach end-to-end encryption in private chats.
According to an open statement signed by Meta-owned WhatsApp, Signal, and five other applications, the law might provide a “unelected official the power to weaken the privacy of billions of people around the world.”
The UK’s Online Safety Bill was intended to create one of the most stringent regimes for regulating sites such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.
To protect free expression, the recommendations were scaled down in November, when a mandate to halt “legal but harmful content” was deleted, and instead the emphasis was placed on illegal content, particularly connected to child protection.
The law, according to the British government, “in no way represented a ban on end-to-end encryption, nor would it require services to weaken encryption.”
However, it wants the regulator, Ofcom, to be allowed to require platforms to employ approved technology or to develop new technology to detect child sexual abuse content.
The signatories of the letter stated that this was incompatible with end-to-end encryption, which allows a message to be read only by the sender and recipient.
“The bill provides no explicit protection for encryption, and if implemented as written, could empower Ofcom to try to force the proactive scanning of private messages on end-to-end encrypted communication services – nullifying the purpose of end-to-end encryption as a result and compromising the privacy of all user,” they said.
According to them, the bill poses a “unprecedented threat to the privacy, safety, and security of every UK citizen and the people with whom they communicate around the world,” while also “empowering hostile governments who may seek to draught copy-cat laws.”
However, a British government spokeswoman emphasised that the UK favours robust encryption, but that it cannot come at the expense of public safety.