Signal, one of the world’s best-encrypted messaging apps, would leave the UK if the proposed new security bill became law.
As it stands, the government’s Online Safety Act would weaken encryption, allowing authorities to check private messages to stop terrorists and pedophiles online.
The fight against encryption
“We would absolutely 100% prefer to walk than ever undermine the trust people have in us to provide a truly private means of communication,” said Meredith Whittaker, president of Signal. BBC (opens in a new tab).
“We have never diluted our privacy promises and never will.”
Launched in 2014, Signal now matters over 40 million monthly active (opens in a new tab) users and over 120 downloads. The app is very popular for its added security features such as disappearing messages mode, especially among those more in need of privacy, such as journalists, activists, and politicians.
Now passing through Parliament, the Online Safety Bill has long been criticized for plans to undermine encryption. As it stands, the bill will require regulator Ofcom to scan encrypted messages for child sexual exploitation or terrorist content.
The UK government said the bill is not about a complete ban on encryption, but rather a way to stop criminals lurking online. “This is not a choice between privacy and children’s safety – we can and must have both,” the Home Office said in a statement.
Whittaker doesn’t fall for it, describing it as “magic thinking” to believe that the bill can guarantee the privacy of those who don’t break the law.
She also pointed out how this could allow both malicious state actors and criminals to exploit these “backdoors” for their own gain.
She told the BBC: “Encryption either protects everyone or it breaks for everyone.”
Signal is not the only application that offers encrypted communication. WhatsApp, Apple iMessage, Facebook and Telegram use E2E to secure user communications. Security software such as VPNs and secure email services may also be subject to UK law.
To make matters worse, governments outside the UK are also fighting encryption in the name of a safer online world. For example, the EU chat control regulates something very similar to the Online Safety Act.
Privacy advocates at The Electronic Frontier Foundation as well warned of the dangers (opens in a new tab) such a law, describing a “censorship, anti-encryption online safety law” as a possible plan for repression around the world.
They wrote last August: “The next UK Prime Minister should reject the bill in its entirety. If it doesn’t, Parliament should vote against it.”