The head of Meta-owned WhatsApp says it would rather be blocked in the United Kingdom than abide by a proposed new law requiring the app to weaken its security.
The UK’s pending Online Safety Bill could require the messaging apps and social media companies to drop end-to-end encryption and scan messages to spy and remove child-abuse material.
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However, Will Cathcart said any such move would have privacy ramifications for all users in the UK and thus is refusing to countenance such a change. If required to under UK law, WhatsApp would not compromise its principals and accept it could no longer operate in the UK.
“Our users all around the world want security – 98% of our users are outside the UK, they do not want us to lower the security of the product,” he said. And the app would rather accept being blocked in the UK,” Cathcart said (via BBC). “We’ve recently been blocked in Iran, for example. We’ve never seen a liberal democracy do that.”
The vow from WhatsApp comes after rival app Signal’s claim it would “absolutely, 100% walk” out on the UK should the Online Safety Bill become law. Cathcart says the requirements would be unbefitting of a liberal democracy. He thinks the UK adopting such measures would set a bad example to other, more authoritatian nations around the world.
“We won’t lower the security of WhatsApp. We have never done that – and we have accepted being blocked in other parts of the world,” he added.
“When a liberal democracy says, ‘Is it OK to scan everyone’s private communication for illegal content?’ that emboldens countries around the world that have very different definitions of illegal content to propose the same thing.”
The battle between safety for the vulnerable and security for the masses doesn’t have a perfect answer, but one needs to be found.