WhatsApp has signed an open letter urging the UK Government to refrain from passing legislation that would give them the “power to read your personal messages”. The messaging platform, owned by parent company Meta, which also runs Facebook and Instagram, is one of the most widely used apps in the UK, but increasing tensions between the government and its chiefs over the Online Safety Bill threatens to make it unusable.
In the open letter signed by Meta, the Government was accused of looking to “weaken the privacy of billions of people around the world”.
The letter read: “The UK government is currently considering new legislation that opens the door to trying to force technology companies to break end-to-end encryption on private messaging services.
“The law could give an unelected official the power to weaken the privacy of billions of people around the world.
“We don’t think any company, government or person should have the power to read your personal messages and we’ll continue to defend encryption technology.”
It also claimed that end-to-end encryption was “one of the strongest possible defences” against threats like online fraud, scams and data theft.
It added that the creation of a “British internet”, set apart from the rest of the world by weakened security, was not something platforms such as WhatsApp could create.
The letter is signed by Will Cathcart, Meta’s head of WhatsApp, who openly said that he would refuse to comply with the Online Safety Bill last month.
At the time, he described the Bill as the most concerning piece of legislation currently being discussed in the western world.
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The Online Safety Bill has been working its way through Parliament since being published in draft form in May 2021.The open letter of complaint has been issued ahead of the Bill’s final reading in the House of Lords.
In its current legislative format, tech companies will have a duty to find and remove illegal content being distributed through their social networking platforms.
Messaging services that use it, such as WhatsApp, Signal, Viber and Element, will be required to get rid of their “end-to-end-encryption” to adhere to these requirements, despite it being a fundamental part of its appeal to users.
The encryption software precludes WhatsApp from seeing messages sent via its own service. This practice is put in place to maintain privacy among users.
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Detractors of end-to-end encryption argue that such a policy prevents proper child safety and cannot stop the proliferation of illegal material.
And the UK Government has insisted that it is possible to protect child safety without compromising privacy.
They have claimed that the Bill “does not represent a ban on end-to-end encryption” and that “we can and must have both” privacy and child safety.