Cybersecurity

Apple Threatens to Withdraw iMessage and FaceTime from UK Amid Surveillance Lawsuits

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July 22, 2023thnEncryption / Privacy

Apple Oversight

Apple has warned that it would rather stop offering its iMessage and FaceTime services in the UK than bow to government pressure in response to new proposals that seek to expand the digital surveillance powers available to the country’s intelligence agencies.

Development, first reported by BBC News, making the iPhone maker the latest to join the chorus protesting the upcoming legislative changes to Investigative Powers Act (IPA) 2016 in a way that would effectively render encryption protection ineffective.

In particular, Online Security Bill requires companies to install technology to scan child sex exploitation and abuse (CSEA) material and terrorist content in encrypted messaging apps and other services. It also mandates that the messaging service remove security features with Home Office before releasing them and take immediate action to disable them if necessary without notifying the public.

While the fact doesn’t explicitly call for removing end-to-end encryption, it would de facto undermine it because companies offering the service would have to scan all messages to flag them and delete them. This has been seen as a disproportionate move allowing the government to carry out mass interception and surveillance.

Apple told the UK broadcaster that such a provision would “constitute a serious and direct threat to data security and information privacy.”

Earlier this April, a number of messaging apps that currently offer encrypted chats, such as Element, Signal, Threema, Viber, Meta’s WhatsApp, and Wire, published a Open letterurged the UK government to rethink its approach and “encourage companies to offer their residents more privacy and security.”

“The bill provides no explicit protection for encryption, and if implemented in writing, could empower OFCOM to attempt to force proactive scanning of private messages on end-to-end encrypted communications services – negating the purpose of end-to-end encryption as a result and compromising the privacy of all users,” the letter read.

Apple, which previously announced its own plans to flag potentially problematic and abusive content in iCloud Photos, abandoned it last year after receiving resistance from digital rights groups over concerns that the ability could be abused to undermine users’ privacy and security.

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This isn’t the first time that the tussle between end-to-end encryption vis-à-vis the need to deal with serious crimes online has emerged.

In May 2021, WhatsApp sued the Indian government for blocking internet regulations that forced the messaging app to crack encryption combine A traceability mechanism to identify the “originator of the first tip” or risk criminal prosecution. The case is still pending.

Apple’s refusal to play ball aligns with its public stance on privacy, which allows it to position itself as a “privacy hero” among other companies that have successfully collected user data to serve targeted ads.

But it also rings true when you consider the fact that any message sent to or received from a non-Apple device is unencrypted – SMS doesn’t support end-to-end encryption – and potentially opens the door to government surveillance.

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