WhatsApp Chief: End-to-End Encryption Won't Be Removed for UK Law
WhatsApp, the popular chat app owned by Meta, has announced that it will not comply with the requirements in the proposed UK Online Safety Bill that would make end-to-end encryption illegal. Speaking during his UK visit, the head of WhatsApp, Will Cathcart, described the bill as the most concerning piece of legislation being discussed in the western world. He explained that 98% of WhatsApp users are located outside of the UK, and that they want security, so the company cannot afford to lower the security of its product.
End-to-end encryption is a secure method of communication that prevents third parties from intercepting or accessing the messages sent over a messaging service. WhatsApp uses this technology, and as a result, it cannot read messages sent over its own service or comply with law enforcement requests to access them.
The UK government already has the power to demand the removal of encryption under the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act, but WhatsApp has not yet received a legal demand to do so. The proposed Online Safety Bill would expand the government’s power in this area, as it would allow for the requirement of content moderation policies that are impossible to comply with without removing end-to-end encryption. WhatsApp could face fines of up to 4% of its parent company Meta’s annual turnover unless it withdrew from the UK market altogether.
Cathcart argues that similar legislation in other jurisdictions, such as the EU’s Digital Markets Act, explicitly protects end-to-end encryption for messaging services. He called for similar language to be included in the UK bill, emphasizing that privacy and security should be considered in the framework. Cathcart believes that procedural safeguards should be in place to prevent a decision from being made independently, and that end-to-end encryption should not be taken away.
WhatsApp also offers social networking features through its “communities” offering, which allows for group chats of over 1,000 users to be created. These groups are also end-to-end encrypted, but Cathcart believes that the likelihood of a large community causing trouble is slim. He believes that it is easy for one person to report any issues, or for investigators to gain access to the information they require.
The Online Safety Bill is expected to return to parliament this summer, and if passed, will give Ofcom significant new powers as the internet regulator. It will also enable Ofcom to require effective content moderation, under the penalty of large fines. Despite these potential consequences, WhatsApp has made it clear that it will not compromise on end-to-end encryption, as security and privacy are a top priority for the company and its users.