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Signal Boss Warns The Company Will Leave the UK If Laws Weaken End-to-end Encryption

The Guardian | Dan Milmo | Feb 24, 2023

Unsplash Tobias Tullius privacy - Signal Boss Warns The Company Will Leave the UK If Laws Weaken End-to-end Encryption

Image: Unsplash/Tobias Tullius

The head of the messaging app Signal has warned that it will quit the UK if the forthcoming online safety bill weakens end-to-end encryption.

  • Asked by the BBC if the bill could jeopardise Signal’s ability to operate in the UK, Meredith Whittaker said: “It could, and we would absolutely 100% walk rather than ever undermine the trust that people place in us to provide a truly private means of communication. We have never weakened our privacy promises, and we never would.”  Whittaker:
    • it was “magical thinking” to believe we can have privacy “but only for the good guys”, adding that the bill was an example of this thinking. She said: “Encryption is either protecting everyone or it is broken for everyone.”
    • Also criticised a system called client-side scanning, where images are scanned before being encrypted. In 2021 Apple was forced to pause its client-side scanning plans, which would have involved the company scanning user photos before they are uploaded to its image-sharing service.
    • Whittaker said such a system would turn everyone’s phone into a “mass surveillance device that phones home to tech corporations and governments and private entities”. She added that technological “back doors” into encrypted services could be hijacked by “malignant state actors” and “create a way for criminals to access these systems”.

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  • The bill has been criticised by privacy campaigners for a provision allowing Ofcom, the communications watchdog, to order a platform to use certain technologies to identify and take down child sexual exploitation and abuse material. It also requires tech firms to make their “best endeavours” to deploy new technology that identifies and removes such content.
    • Privacy advocates warn 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 rogue actors and governments.
  • On the other hand:  A Home Office spokesperson said the online safety bill, which is due to become law this year, does not ban encryption.  “The online safety bill does not represent a ban on end-to-end encryption but makes clear that technological changes should not be implemented in a way that diminishes public safety – especially the safety of children online. It is not a choice between privacy or child safety – we can and we must have both.”

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