Apple has stated that it will pull services like FaceTime and iMessage from the UK rather than compromising their security, in response to potential new laws based on the government’s proposed updates to the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) of 2016. The government’s proposed changes aim to require messaging services to seek approval from the Home Office before implementing security features for their customers. Under the current IPA, the Home Office can demand the disabling of security features without public disclosure, but the proposed update would require immediate compliance without an independent review or appeal process.
As a result of the secrecy surrounding such demands, it remains unclear how many have been issued and whether they have been adhered to. Many messaging platforms, including WhatsApp and Signal, are against a clause in the Online Safety Bill that would allow the communications regulator to mandate technology for scanning encrypted messaging apps for child abuse material. These platforms, including Apple, have expressed their refusal to comply with such requirements, with Signal even threatening to exit the UK.
Apple’s opposition to the IPA dates back to its introduction, which was criticized as a “snooper’s charter.” In the current consultation, Apple’s nine-page submission opposes several aspects of the proposed amendments, such as notifying the Home Office about changes to security features before release, applying global changes to non-UK-based companies affecting end-to-end encryption, and enforcing immediate action without review or appeal.
Apple emphasizes that it will not compromise security features for one country if it weakens the product for all users. Some changes would necessitate software updates, making secrecy impossible. Furthermore, Apple argues that the proposals seriously threaten data security and privacy for individuals outside the UK.
Cyber-security expert Prof Alan Woodward believes that major tech companies are unlikely to accept the proposed requirements without significant resistance. The Home Office defends the IPA as a measure to protect the public from criminal activities, child abuse, and terrorism, stating that the consultation is part of a continuous review process to enhance legislation’s strength without final decisions being made yet.