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WhatsApp says will leave UK market if forced to stop end-to-end protection

London, March 10 (IANS) Meta-owned WhatsApp has said it will leave the UK market if forced to weaken its end-to-end encryption for users under the upcoming Online Safety Bill.

In a briefing with reporters, WhatsApp Head Will Cathcart slammed the legislation as the most concerning set of online regulations in the western world, reports Wired.

“We’ve recently been blocked in Iran, for example. But we’ve never seen a liberal democracy do that,” Cathcart was quoted as saying in reports.

“Ninety-eight per cent of our users are outside the UK. It would be an odd choice for us to choose to lower the security of the product in a way that would affect those 98 per cent of users,” he categorically said.

Cathcart says he is concerned that the bill could make it harder for WhatsApp and other messaging platforms to provide end-to-end encryption.

“It’s hard to imagine we’re having this conversation about a liberal democracy that might go around people’s ability to communicate privately,” he told reporters.

A provision in the Online Safety Bill requires tech companies to use “accredited technology” to scan users’ messages for child sexual abuse material or CSAM.

According to security researchers, it is impossible to introduce such a measure without breaking end-to-end encryption.

In 2021, Apple introduced plans to scan users’ messages for CSAM but shelved those after facing criticism from the security researchers.

The Online Safety Bill also puts the onus on Big Tech and firms that fail to comply with the new rules could face fines of up to 18 million pounds, or 10 per cent of their annual global turnover, whichever is highest.

New measures in the law include tougher and quicker criminal sanctions for tech bosses and new criminal offences for falsifying and destroying data.

The Online Safety Bill will require social media platforms, search engines and other apps and websites allowing people to post their own content to protect children, tackle illegal activity and uphold their stated terms and conditions.

“The Bill will strengthen people’s rights to express themselves freely online and ensure social media companies are not removing legal free speech. For the first time, users will have the right to appeal if they feel their post has been taken down unfairly,” former Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries had said last year.