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WhatsApp will not weaken encryption for Online Safety Bill

WhatsApp Online Safety Bill
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The head of WhatsApp has said the messaging app will not change its encryption standards if required by the upcoming Online Safety Bill.

WhatsApp’s chief is visiting the UK to meet with government legislators to debate the Online Safety Bill, a controversial piece of legislation that could require platforms like WhatsApp to remove end-to-end encryption to apply content moderation policies.

Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook parent company Meta, said: “It’s a remarkable thing to think about. There isn’t a way to change it in just one part of the world.

“Some countries have chosen to block it: that’s the reality of shipping a secure product. We’ve recently been blocked in Iran, for example. But we’ve never seen a liberal democracy do that.”

Cathcart’s comments raise questions about the future of WhatsApp in the UK should the Online Safety Bill push forward as planned.

It is not the only app that has voiced concerns over the Online Safety Bill. Last month fellow messaging app Signal’s president said it would leave the UK if the bill tampers with encryption measures.

Amendments to the Online Safety Bill made earlier this year mean that social media executives could be liable for up to two years in jail if they repeatedly fail to protect children online.

Cathcart added: “98% of our users are outside the UK. They do not want us to lower the security of the product, and just as a straightforward matter, 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% of users.”

The Online Safety Bill will give communications watchdog Ofcom more control over internet content by giving it the ability to issue large fines to companies that fail to protect users from harm. It returned to Parliament last year after lengthy delays and is expected to return this summer.