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Apple threatens to kill iMessage & FaceTime in UK if controversial law passes

UK Houses of Parliament

Apple is refusing to compromise iPhone and Mac security, and will cut off FaceTime and iMessage in the UK should the new Online Safety Bill challenging end-to-end encryption be passed as it stands.

Apple made its position clear on the Online Safety Bill as part of an eight-week period where the UK government is seeking feedback. It has always opposed the bill, but in a new filing spotted by the BBC, Apple is drawing a firm line.

Specifically, Apple has said that it will not make changes to security features for one country that would weaken a product for all users. Elaborating on its point, Apple says that the law and changes that would have to be made to iMessage and FaceTime — and likely other products — "constitute a serious and direct threat to data security and information privacy" worldwide.

Apple does not stand alone in this point. Signal and WhatsApp have similar positions on the law. Signal went so far as to say it would completely walk away from doing business in the UK, should the law pass.

What the UK's Online Safety Bill contains, and why big tech is fighting against it

The Online Safety Bill is being considered by the UK parliament as a potential law that could force online messaging services that use encryption to scan for potential images of child abuse. As part of a wider criticism of the bill's intentions, Apple has publicly objected to the law's implementation, and Thursday's filing just amplifies that position.

The bill reasons that law enforcement is not capable of identifying child sexual abuse material being shared across online messaging services like iMessage, due to the implementation of end-to-end encryption. Therefore, the law would empower regulator Ofcom to order such platforms to scan the contents of messages.

However, to accomplish that, there has to be a weakening of end-to-end encryption itself, making it less secure and eliminating the whole point of using the technique for privacy in the first place.

Apple's statement occurs at the same time as the Open Rights Group sends an open letter to minister Chloe Smith, the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation, and Technology.

Signed by over 80 civil society organizations and academics, the group believes "The UK could become the first liberal democracy to require the routine scanning of people's private chat messages, including chats that are secured by end-to-end encryption" if the bill becomes law.

While Apple is against the bill, it has previously attempted to perform actions that would be somewhat in the ballpark of what the bill would require it to do. Its 2021 attempt to introduce on-device scanning of images as a child protection measure was praised by the UK government, but was ultimately killed off by Apple in December 2022.