WHATSAPP has yet again called out the UK government over "troubling" new online safety laws that is says promotes "surveillance".
The move would cause quite the stir, with WhatsApp being used by approximately one in seven people in the UK.
In an open letter to government, WhatsApp, alongside Signal and Element, wrote: "The UK government is currently considering new legislation that opens the door to trying to force technology companies to break end-to-end encryption on private messaging services.
"The law could give an unelected official the power to weaken the privacy of billions of people around the world.
"We don’t think any company, government or person should have the power to read your personal messages and we’ll continue to defend encryption technology."
End-to-end encryption is automatically used for every message, photo, video or voice note that is exchanged within WhatsApp.
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It's one of the most robust levels of security because nobody other than the sender and intended recipient can read the message information.
In it's current form, the Bill intends to break end-to-end encryption by giving companies the right to access messages and other encrypted data.
"Weakening encryption, undermining privacy and introducing the mass surveillance of people's private communications is not the way forward," an open letter warned.
Ministers proposed the law in a bid to tackle child abuse material online.
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The government argues that it's possible to have both privacy and child safety.
"We support strong encryption," a government official told the BBC, "but this cannot come at the cost of public safety.
"Tech companies have a moral duty to ensure they are not blinding themselves and law enforcement to the unprecedented levels of child sexual abuse on their platforms.
"The Online Safety Bill in no way represents a ban on end-to-end encryption, nor will it require services to weaken encryption."
The House of Lords are expected to debate the Online Safety Bill tomorrow.
In March, WhatsApp boss Will Cathcart admitted he would rather accept being blocked in the UK than weaken the apps' security.
"Our users all around the world want security – 98% of our users are outside the UK, they do not want us to lower the security of the product," he told BBC News at the time.
"We've recently been blocked in Iran, for example. We've never seen a liberal democracy do that."
Despite Cathcart being concerned that a change in UK laws could encourage other countries to do the same, he and others in the tech sphere have refused to budge on their position.
"We won't lower the security of WhatsApp. We have never done that – and we have accepted being blocked in other parts of the world," he continued.
"When a liberal democracy says, 'Is it OK to scan everyone's private communication for illegal content?' that emboldens countries around the world that have very different definitions of illegal content to propose the same thing."
Matthew Hodgson, CEO of UK messaging service Element and a signatory of the letter, said it would put the privacy and security of the public and global defence officials at risk.
Element is used by the UK Ministry of Defence, Armed Forces of Ukraine, US Navy, US Marine Corps, German Armed Forces and the French government.
"We are asking for the government to honour its commitment to protect end-to-end encrypted communication systems by exempting them from content scanning, and so avoid the creation of blanket surveillance infrastructure,"he told the BBC Today show this morning.
"Such surveillance mechanisms would be an incredibly tempting target for bad actors, and a spectacular violation of privacy – equivalent to putting a CCTV camera in everyone’s bedroom and sending footage, unencrypted, to a private security company."
The open letter has been signed by:
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It is signed by:
- Element chief executive Matthew Hodgson
- Oxen Privacy Tech Foundation and Session director Alex Linton
- Signal president Meredith Whittaker
- Threema chief executive Martin Blatter
- Viber chief executive Ofir Eyal
- head of WhatsApp at Meta Will Cathcart
- Wire chief technical officer Alan Duric
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