The head of messaging app Signal has warned it will leave the UK if the upcoming internet security bill weakens end-to-end encryption.
Signal’s president said the organization would “absolutely, 100%” walk if the legislation undermined the crypto service.
Asked by the BBC whether the bill could jeopardize Signal’s ability to operate in the UK, Meredith Whittaker said: “It could, and we would absolutely walk 100% rather than ever undermine the trust people place in us for to provide a truly private means of communication. We have never weakened our privacy promises and never will.”
The bill has been criticized by privacy campaigners for a provision that allows Ofcom, the communications watchdog, to order a platform to use certain technologies to identify and remove child sexual exploitation and abuse material. It also requires technology companies to use their “best efforts” to develop new technology that detects and removes such content.
Privacy advocates warn that the bill could force encrypted messaging services such as Signal, WhatsApp and Apple’s iMessage to monitor users’ messages and create vulnerabilities in their platforms that could be exploited by unscrupulous people. actors and governments.
Whittaker told the BBC it was “magical thinking” to think we could have privacy “but only for the good guys”, adding that the bill was an example of that thinking. He said: “Encryption either protects everyone or it breaks for everyone.”
Signal, which has more than 40 million monthly users, is operated by a US-based non-profit organization and is widely used by activists and journalists, as well as some intelligence agencies. End-to-end encryption ensures that only the sender and receiver of a message can see its contents.
Whittaker also criticized a system called client-side scanning, where images are scanned before being encrypted. In 2021 Apple was forced to discontinue its client-side scanning plans, which would have involved scanning users’ photos before they were uploaded to the image sharing service.
Whittaker said such a system would turn everyone’s phone into a “mass surveillance device that hosts tech companies and governments and private entities.” He added that technological “back doors” in encrypted services could be breached by “malign state actors” and “create a way for criminals to access these systems.”
Will Cathcart, the head of WhatsApp, told the Financial Times last year that any UK move against crypto would resonate around the world.
“If the UK decides it’s okay for a government to get rid of encryption, there are governments all over the world that will do exactly the same thing, where liberal democracy is not as strong,” he said.
A Home Office spokesman said the internet security bill, due to become law this year, said the legislation did not ban encryption.
“The Internet Safety Bill does not represent a ban on end-to-end encryption, but makes it clear that technological changes must not be implemented in a way that reduces public safety – especially the safety of children online. It’s not a choice between privacy or child safety – we can and should have both.”