Messaging app Signal says they will leave the UK if the Online Safety Bill undermines encryption
The encrypted messaging app Signal has gone from strength to strength since its launch in May 2010, with millions of users trusting the platform to keep their personal data safe.
The fully encrypted app was bought by WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton and turned into a non-profit organisation in 2018, allowing users to send texts, make calls, transfer files and documents, and share their location while being protected by end-to-end encryption.
However, UK users might soon have to find another platform to meet their safe communication needs, as the president of Signal, Meredith Whittaker, has declared that the company will axe their services in the country if the Online Safety Bill harmed encryption. Whittaker expressed that they would not tolerate the privacy of their service being weakened, and “would absolutely, 100% walk”.
The bill in question aims to introduce new rules that will more closely regulate social media and other user-generated content-based platforms, with the goal of protecting national security and children. It will see Ofcom fining the firms that break the rules.
The bill - expected to become law before next summer - has been a controversial one since its introduction to Parliament in May 2021. Online campaigners and free-speech advocates believe that it will censor legal speech and see the Government shape social conversations according to its agenda.
The Government insists that the bill will not ban end-to-end encryption, but critics say that Ofcom could claim they need to scan messages in encrypted apps to make sure they don’t contain harmful content, which would disrupt users’ privacy.
Signal isn’t the only platform that’s willing to walk away. In July 2022, WhatsApp confirmed that it would not lower its security for any government either. The Head of WhatsApp, Will Cathcart, told the BBC: “If we had to lower security for the world, to accommodate the requirement in one country, that... would be very foolish for us to accept, making our product less desirable to 98% of our users because of the requirements from 2%.
“What’s being proposed is that we - either directly or indirectly through software - read everyone’s messages. I don’t think people want that.”
In the past, tech companies have withdrawn their services in Europe when local laws weren’t hospitable for their goals. When Spain tried to tax search engines for sharing media outlets’ headlines and snippets, Google axed Google News in the country and only returned when the Spanish government changed that law.