Apple threatens to pull FaceTime and iMessage from the UK

21 Jul 2023

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The UK is considering giving its Home Office renewed powers over tech companies and Apple is not pleased.

Unhappy with new government proposals, Apple is reportedly willing to remove encrypted services such as FaceTime and iMessage from the UK market.

The UK government is considering updates to the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 that would give the Home Office the power to demand tech companies to disable security features such as encryption without telling the public.

It launched an eight-week consultation last month that, among other proposals, is considering compelling tech companies to comply with the government requests immediately, even before it has the chance to appeal. The consultation ends on 31 July.

According to a BBC report, Apple remains strongly opposed to the act, also known as a “snooper’s charter” by critics, and the latest threat to pull FaceTime and iMessage comes after the two parties seem to have reached a negotiatory dead end.

The US tech giant refuses to have to notify the Home Office of any changes to security features before they are rolled out, and does not believe non-UK companies should have to comply with changes in law that would impact their global services, such as breaking encryption.

The tussle between London and tech companies over encryption is an ongoing issue.

Last month, Apple joined WhatsApp, Signal and privacy rights groups in taking a stand against a provision in the UK’s upcoming Online Safety Bill that will force messaging services to compromise on end-to-end encryption.

The bill wants to crack down on the possession and sharing of child sex abuse material on popular privacy-focused messaging apps such as iMessage, WhatsApp and Signal.

“End-to-end encryption is a critical capability that protects the privacy of journalists, human rights activists and diplomats,” Apple said at the time.

“It also helps everyday citizens defend themselves from surveillance, identity theft, fraud and data breaches. The Online Safety Bill poses a serious threat to this protection and could put UK citizens at greater risk.”

In response to the latest consultation over the Investigatory Powers Act, Apple reportedly said it will not make changes to security features specifically for one country that would weaken its products for global users.

It argued that some changes require software updates so complying with the public secrecy clause is also out of the question. Apple also said the proposals “constitute a serious and direct threat to data security and information privacy” that would affect people outside the UK.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic