Earlier this month, Apple warned that it would pull iMessage and FaceTime from iPhones in the UK rather than weaken its secrecy features at the government’s request. Now, the company has taken that threat a step further, warning that it will cut off those features in the country completely if the government proceeds with plans to amend surveillance laws. The company opposes updates to the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) that will allow the Home Office to force technology companies to review and disable privacy features without giving them a chance to appeal. The changes are so controversial that they’ve been dubbed a “snooper’s charter” by critics.
The Rishi Sunak-led Home Office is attempting to change the IPA in order to give itself the ability to unilaterally examine and disable privacy features on personal messaging apps to assist in national security and law enforcement investigations. Currently, a decision to disable an encryption feature must go through a review process with an independent oversight committee and the technology company in question has the right to appeal.
According to the ICO, however, the new laws will change that and allow the Home Office to demand that an encryption feature be enabled immediately. This is not just a concern for tech companies like Apple but also for users as it could give hackers access to private conversations. Apple is fighting the proposal, which it says threatens people’s freedom and has been dubbed a’snooper’s charter’ in a letter to the Home Office.
Apple has also said that it will refuse to make changes to its products for one country if it would weaken them for everyone, and that introducing such changes into iOS in the UK could impact millions of users globally. In addition, the company has expressed opposition to a clause in the IPA that will enable the UK communications regulator to require companies to install software that can scan for CSAM, a common malware marker, on devices. This would also have a global impact and could force companies like WhatsApp-owned Meta and Signal to withdraw from the UK.
As part of an eight-week consultation period, Apple has submitted a nine-page document to the Home Office slamming the proposed changes to the IPA. The letter has been signed by several other tech companies, including WhatsApp and Signal. These companies are not the only ones to announce their opposition to the changes, with Wikipedia also threatening to exit the UK if it’s forced to censor articles and carry out age verification. Despite this, it’s not clear whether the Home Office will proceed with the planned changes as they are currently under an intense public scrutiny. A similar row is underway over the EU’s GDPR data privacy rules, with some companies announcing they will exit the bloc if they’re forced to weaken their encryption. The next update to the GDPR comes in May, and it’s expected to bring further changes to how data is accessed by companies.