WhatsApp wants the UK government to rethink its online privacy bill

WhatsApp on smartphone
(Image credit: Anton/Pexels)

WhatsApp has penned an open letter urging the UK government to reconsider aspects of its new Online Safety Bill (OSB).

The controversial proposals are thought by many, including WhatsApp, to endanger online privacy by compromising the effectiveness of end-to-end encryption.

The popular messaging app, which uses end-to-end encryption, believes the bill will lead to the "mass surveillance" of its users content in a misguided effort to combat the spread of online child abuse. 

Child safety and privacy

The open letter has several signatories from other encrypted messaging services, including Session, Signal, Element, Threema, Viber and Wire, calling on the government to "urgently rethink" the new law. Specifically, the part that we let regulators in the country ask messaging service providers to monitor users to remove child abuse content.

The government, on the other hand, says that online privacy and child safety needn't be mutually exclusive. A government official said that "We support strong encryption, but this cannot come at the cost of public safety."

They went further to claim that technology firms have a "moral duty" to ensure they do not let child abuse content go unnoticed, with the official saying that this content is at "unprecedented levels" on messaging platforms such as WhatsApp.

They also assured companies and the public that the bill "in no way represents a ban on end-to-end encryption, nor will it require services to weaken encryption."

The open letter from the messaging services, however, believes it will render the purpose of end-to-end encryption - which ensures that only the sender and receiver of messages can view their contents, prohibiting even the poatform provider itself from being able to access them - useless.

"Weakening encryption, undermining privacy and introducing the mass surveillance of people's private communications is not the way forward," it argues, adding that it "opens the door to routine, general and indiscriminate surveillance of personal messages."

WhatsApp believes that another consequence of the bill, if passed, is that it might end up "emboldening hostile governments who may seek to draft copycat laws" in order to further undermine the freedoms of their own citizens.

"Proponents say that they appreciate the importance of encryption and privacy while also claiming that it's possible to surveil everyone's messages without undermining end-to-end encryption," the letter says. "The truth is that this is not possible".

Lewis Maddison
Reviews Writer

Lewis Maddison is a Reviews Writer for TechRadar. He previously worked as a Staff Writer for our business section, TechRadar Pro, where he had experience with productivity-enhancing hardware, ranging from keyboards to standing desks. His area of expertise lies in computer peripherals and audio hardware, having spent over a decade exploring the murky depths of both PC building and music production. He also revels in picking up on the finest details and niggles that ultimately make a big difference to the user experience.