Apple says it will remove FaceTime and iMessage from the UK if surveillance laws are changed
Apple has said that it would rather remove FaceTime and iMessage from the UK, rather than comply with the new surveillance laws that have been proposed in the Parliament. The changes could affect end-to-end encryption in social messaging apps.
The law in question would be added under the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) 2016. The act will require messaging services to inform the UK Home Office about new security features, before they are released. To make things worse, the UK's Home Office can demand security features to be disabled without informing users about it.
Normally, this would be considered highly illegal and intrusive. But if the law is passed, it could put the security and privacy of users in jeopardy. One of the new clauses in the Online Safety Bill could allow communications regulators to install some technology (sort of like a backdoor), to scan for child-abuse material in messaging apps. This controversial move would defeat the privacy and security offered by end-to-end encryption in popular apps.
According to a report published by the BBC, the Home Office said that the Investigatory Powers Act was designed to "protect the public from criminals, child sex abusers and terrorists". The bill is currently being reviewed, nothing has been finalized yet. There could be an independent oversight process, and technology companies will be allowed to appeal the decision.
WhatsApp and Signal have opposed the changes in the surveillance laws, with Signal having threatened to walk away from the UK. It is worth noting that Apple itself came under fire a year ago for its CSAM scanner that would have allowed it to scan users' iCloud library for abusive media. It only backed out of the plans after significant negative feedback from users and security experts.
However, the company seems to have learned its lesson. Apple has joined its iMessage rivals by criticizing the surveillance laws proposed by the UK Government, with strong objections in a nine-page report, although the dossier isn't available for public scrutiny.
Apple also does not like the idea of receiving a notice from the Home Office to disable or block a feature, and would prefer having it reviewed or appeal against such requests. The Cupertino company is not happy about consulting the Home Office regarding security features. Apple's argument pointed out that making changes may not be possible without a software update, i.e. it cannot be done secretly like the Government wants to.
The California-based company also questioned the need for non-UK-based companies to comply with the changes that have been proposed could affect its global user base, and has indicated that it would not accept the law by weakening the security for all users. It is not really surprising that Apple has threatened to walk away from the UK instead of submitting to the unreasonable demands.
Prof Alan Woodward, a Cyber-security expert from Surrey University, called out the Government for being arrogant and ignorant if they believed tech companies will blindly comply with new laws without putting up a fight. He's right on the money. When it comes to technology, high-ranking officials either don't have enough knowledge about them, or simply don't care whether it affects the common man. Besides, a lot of Governments have been found guilty of misusing surveillance laws to spy upon activists, rival politicians, etc., under the false pretext of protecting the Country from criminals, terrorists.
Think about it, such changes could be an absolute disaster for your privacy. Would you be okay if someone was analyzing your browsing history, shopping preferences, snooping on your chats, viewing your family photos, and is aware of their location? What if this data falls into the wrong hands?
It is good to see Apple take a stand against this sort of privacy abuse.