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iMessage, WhatsApp and Signal won’t have to quit the UK… for now

The UK government has backed down in its efforts to force messaging apps to include an encryption-breaking requirement to scan for illegal content.

According to a Financial Times report, the UK’s proposed changes to the Online Safety Bill have dropped the requirement to build a privacy backdoor and undermine the end-to-end encryption of conversations.

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The plans saw Apple threaten to revoke access to iMessage in the country completely. WhatsApp and Signal had shown similar opposition to the planned change, which the government had pitched as a way to search for and curtail the spread of child sex abuse images.

Why the change of heart from the government? Well, it may be saving face after the tech companies failed to blink. The government themselves say the requirement is only being dropped because the plans currently aren’t “technically feasible”.

The report from the FT says: “The UK government will concede it will not use controversial powers in the online safety bill to scan messaging apps for harmful content until it is “technically feasible” to do so, postponing measures that critics say threaten users’ privacy.”

There’s always the prospect of this privacy-bashing requirement returning from the dead, but it seems at this time, it’s too unpalatable to both tech users and service providers to get it through.

Back in July, Apple said the proposed law change would “make the Home Office the de facto global arbiter of what level of data security and encryption are permissible.”

The company added: “Together, these provisions could be used to force a company like Apple, that would never build a backdoor, to publicly withdraw critical security features from the UK market, depriving UK users of these protections.”

WhatsApp said it would rather be blocked in the UK than adhere to the law, while Signal said it would “100% walk”. For now, the tech companies have come out on top.

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