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WhatsApp CEO backs Signal's stance against UK's Online Safety Bill

WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart says bill could make Signal's privacy features illegal

By Web Desk
March 10, 2023
Image shows combined logos of encrypted messaging services WhatsApp (r) and Signal (l)—Twitter/@whatsapp, @signalapp
Image shows combined logos of encrypted messaging services WhatsApp (r) and Signal (l)—Twitter/@whatsapp, @signalapp

WhatsApp CEO Will Cathcart has backed the encrypted messaging service Signal's criticism against the United Kingdom's Online Safety Law.

Signal President Meredith Whittaker has called the bill "misguided" and has affirmed that platform will never undermine their privacy commitments.

"Signal exists to provide people everywhere with a tool for real private communication," she said in a statement.

If the country were to pass the current draft of the online safety law, Cathcart said that WhatsApp, the world's most popular messaging app, might have to stop offering its services in the UK.

WhatsApp CEO backs Signals stance against UKs Online Safety Bill

On Thursday, Cathcart told the reporters at the London offices of Meta Platforms that the bill could make the service's privacy features illegal, adding that the service will not change its encryption standards.

“It’s a global product; there isn’t a way to change it in just one part of the world,” Cathcart was quoted by The Strait Times. “We’ve recently been blocked in Iran, for example. We’ve never seen a liberal democracy do that.”

The bill was introduced by former UK prime minister Boris Johnson in an effort to compel companies to remove illegal content like child sexual abuse.

However, critics remarked that the scanning would not be compatible to end-to-end encryption protection services that messenger apps like WhatsApp and Signal provide.

Before her recent take on the bill, Whittaker told the BBC in February that the app would leave the country if the bill forced them to weaken its privacy protections.

Signal is a non-profit organisation based in Silicon Valley that was started by WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton after he left the platform in 2017.

"The Signal Protocol has become the foundation for end-to-end encryption technology that is used and trusted by many private messaging services to protect billions of messages every day," Whittaker in her recent statement.

She said that Signal recognises that privacy is a human right and that the Bill would put "privacy and expression in grave jeopardy."

She added that while the name of the Bill made it sound like it was protecting privacy, it is actually undermining encryption and could result in a "regime of mass surveillance". Whittaker believes that the Bill would take away the Brits' ability to "communicate with each other outside of government interference."

Calling it a "grab bag", she said that sensible proposals were sitting next to "spy clauses". History shows that governments have tried and failed to create backdoors that are only available for the good guys.

Whittaker believes that a dangerous Bill like this was able to move along this far because it targeted emotions. "Harm to children is a monstrous topic," she noted.

"As in Iran, we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure that people in the UK have access to Signal and to private communications. But we will not undermine or compromise the privacy and safety promises we make to people in the UK, and everywhere else in the world," she concluded.