A variety of instant messaging platforms including Meta Platform’s WhatsApp united to resist a proposal in a mooted UK government internet safety bill which they argue would break end-to-end encryption in private messages.
Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp, along with high ranking executives at Signal, Element, OPTF, Viber, Threema and Wire, signed an open letter claiming the UK government was forcing a break to end-to-end encryption.
All seven argued the government’s proposed online safety bill gives “an unelected official the power to weaken the privacy of billions of people around the world”.
The bill in question puts the focus on clamping down illegal content and, in particular, child safety.
It has already been watered down from what was originally designed to be one of the toughest globally to regulate major technology companies.
The government is putting pressure on communications regulator Ofcom to make platforms use accredited technology or develop new offerings able to identify child sexual abuse content.
However, the executives outlined their belief no company, government or person “should have the power to read your personal messages”, likening the measures proposed to surveillance.
As currently drafted the bill “could empower Ofcom to try to force the proactive scanning of private messages on end-to-end encrypted communication services”, effectively nullifying the purpose of it and compromising the privacy of all users, the executives argued.
The UK government has stated it supports strong encryption but “this cannot come at the cost of public safety”.
WhatsApp has previously threatened to pull out of the UK market if measures are taken to weaken encryption.