WhatsApp: Boss warns chat app could become illegal in the UK under encryption laws

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If WhatsApp does not comply with new online legislation introduced by the British government it could be deemed illegal in the UK, claims the head of the chat app.

The head of popular chat app WhatsApp has warned the app could be banned in the UK. The app, known for its end-to-end encryption, could become illegal in the UK after the new Online Safety Bill comes into effect, which could force the Meta owned app to weaken its encryption settings.

Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp said that if the government forces the company to weaken its encryption security, they would refuse, which could lead to a ban within the country. Mr Cathcart said he was shocked that the app could be forced to do so by the British government, but said that the new legislation doesn’t give confidence that the app wouldn’t be forced to weaken its privacy and security.

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End-to-end encryption is a security measure that ensures the messages you send are only available to you and the people you sent them to - not even WhatsApp themselves can access your chats. The government however says that the reasoning behind weakening encryption is to scan for illegal activities.

“It’s a remarkable thing to think about,” Cathcart said. “The experience we’ve faced all around the world is that’s only happened in governments that were trying to crack down on their citizens’ ability to communicate freely.”

He also warned that if the UK government were to force WhatsApp to ease its security, other countries could follow.

“When a liberal democracy says, ‘Is it OK to scan everyone’s private communication for illegal content?’, that emboldens countries around the world that have very different definitions of illegal content to propose the same thing.”

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The Online Safety Bill could force WhatsApp to ease its encryption.The Online Safety Bill could force WhatsApp to ease its encryption.
The Online Safety Bill could force WhatsApp to ease its encryption. | AFP via Getty Images

Under the Online Safety Bill, introduced by Boris Johnson, the government can demand that apps like WhatsApp remove their encryption under the Investigatory Powers Bill. Mr Cathcart has however confirmed that the company has not received such a demand from the government.

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