The firm will refuse to scan private messages if demanded
UK users may no longer be able to use popular messaging service WhatsApp if a new law requires the company to weaken its end-to-end encryption.
Its head, Will Cathcart, said it would not comply with the Online Safety Bill if it will requires the firm to scan private messages.
During a visit to the UK to meet legislators to discuss the landmark law, which is currently going through parliament, he said that while WhatsApp has recently been blocked in Iran “we’ve never seen a liberal democracy do that”.
He explained that there isn’t a way to change encryption in just one part of the world.
“The reality is, our users all around the world want security,” he said. “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% per cent of users.”
WhatsApp is the UK’s most popular messaging platform, used by more than seven in 10 adult internet users, according to communication regulator Ofcom.
Previously, the app Signal said it would leave the UK market if the bill required it to weaken encryption.
With end-to-end encryption,the only people who can read a message are the sender and the intended recipient, and not a third party including even WhatsApp can.
The bill aims to introduce new rules that aim to make the internet a safer place for children and adults.
Tech executives could face up to two years in jail if the social media platforms they run repeatedly fail to protect children from harm. Also, Ofcom could dish out fines to firms that break the rules.
If WhatsApp refused to comply with the bill, it could face a penalty of up to 4 per cent of parent company Meta’s annual turnover – unless it pulled out of the UK market completely.
The bill – expected to become law before next summer – has proved controversial. Child safety campaigners say the only way to detect and disrupt child abuse online is for authorities to be able to scan messages for such materials.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) says grooming and child-abuse-image crimes recorded in the UK have risen dramatically.
The UK government already has the power to demand the removal of encryption thanks to the 2016 investigatory powers act, but WhatsApp has never received a legal warning to do so.