Apple has issued a warning to the UK government that it may shut down its end-to-end encrypted communication services, FaceTime and iMessage, if the government proceeds with plans to expand digital surveillance powers. The warning is part of a growing trend of tech companies expressing discontent with government policies that they perceive as harmful to their users’ interests. Similar warnings have been given by other companies such as Meta-owned WhatsApp, Signal Messenger, and Wikipedia, regarding different aspects of the UK’s digital policy.
The UK government has announced a consultation on changes to the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA), which includes requirements for messaging services to clear security features with the Home Office before release and immediate action on demands to disable security features. These proposed changes have raised security concerns for tech companies like Apple, as they could compromise the privacy and data security of users.
Apple opposes the requirement for non-UK-based companies to comply with changes that would affect their products globally, potentially requiring them to provide a backdoor to end-to-end encryption. The company argues that making changes to security features for one country could weaken the product for all users worldwide.
The government claims that the updates to the IPA are necessary to maintain the capabilities of law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the face of technological changes. However, Apple and other tech companies are concerned about the potential impact on user privacy and data security.
The UK’s Online Safety Bill (OSB) is another point of contention for tech companies, as it includes measures related to age-gating and content censorship. Wikipedia, for example, has expressed opposition to age-gating and selective censorship of articles, stating that it would not comply with such measures under any circumstances.
Despite criticism from tech industry experts and companies, the UK government has so far been steadfast in its support of the OSB and proposed changes to the IPA. The government’s framing of the legislation as a child safety intervention has garnered popular support, and opposition within parliament has been limited.
The outcome of this growing discontent between tech companies and the UK government remains uncertain. Apple’s threat to shut down FaceTime and iMessage in the UK could potentially influence the government’s decision, but it remains to be seen how the situation will unfold in the coming months. As it stands, the conflict between privacy concerns and surveillance powers continues to be a contentious issue in UK tech policymaking.