whatsapp would leave the uk if forced to give up E2EE

WhatsApp would opt to leave the United Kingdom instead of caving to disable its flagship end-to-end encryption (E2EE) if legislators ultimately pass the Online Safety Bill as is.

According to the bill, instant messaging apps will be required to scan users’ conversations to remove any content that promotes or displays child sexual abuse, cyberbullying, sexual violence, hate crime, self-harm, terrorism, and other similar practices.

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The bill does not clarify how these scans will be performed but experts have warned that this would force applications like WhatsApp and Signal to remove end-to-end encryption or otherwise they would be unable to comply.

With E2EE, the messages sent within these platforms can only be read by the sender and recipient.

The platform or any third party – including law enforcement – who works to intercept the messages cannot read them unless they have the corresponding decryption key.

WhatsApp’s Director Will Not Hesitate to Pull Out the App

According to WhatsApp Director Will Cathcart, the instant messaging app will refuse to comply with these rules as they will force it to shut down one of the most relevant characteristics of the software.

“We’ve never seen a liberal democracy do that,” 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.”

Failing to comply with the rules established by the new bill could result in hefty penalties for Meta Platforms (META) – the parent company of WhatsApp – of up to 4% of its annual turnover.

This is another reason that would make it more feasible for the messaging app to pull out of the UK as it would be too risky – and ultimately costly – to operate under such an ambiguous legal framework.

In a similar fashion, the head of Signal, a competitor to WhatsApp, said that its app “would absolutely, 100% walk [away from the British market]” if authorities force it to bypass or waive end-to-end-encryption.

According to an article published on Lexology by an attorney from British legal firm Browne Jacobson, the bill, if passed, “raises concerns regarding freedom of speech and privacy” as it forces service providers to surveil their customers.

“The Bill is a complex and controversial piece of legislation that raises numerous significant issues. While it is essential to ensure that internet users are protected from harm and abuse, it is also vital to ensure that rights of users are respected.

“As the Bill progresses through the legislative process, it will be crucial for policymakers to thoroughly consider the pros and cons of the legislation and to work towards achieving a balance between these competing interest.”

Also read: WhatsApp Reaches Agreement with the EU to Be More Transparent with Consumers

Neighboring jurisdictions have enforced similar rules but have explicitly excluded messaging services that offer end-to-end encryption from monitoring their users’ conversations.

According to a survey from BCS, a non-profit organization that monitors ethical and moral challenges facing the IT industry, 58% of industry professionals are worried about the implications the bill could have for free speech in the UK.

The BCS expects that the bill could receive Royal Assent by the summer.

However, some of its most controversial clauses could still be challenged and modifications may still be made to the final document amid the concerns cited by relevant actors directly affected by its scope and reach.