The UK government has denied reports that it has backed down on its Online Safety Bill, throwing the future of Apple’s popular iMessage service into doubt. The latest twist in the saga follows concerns about Apple removing iMessage from the UK. The British government had reportedly requested that the company remove end-to-end encryption on the platform in the name of security. Now, a new report claims that the government is planning to drop the specific measure targeting this, a move the government has since denied.
The Government had reportedly agreed to drop the Online Safety Bill measure that forced a requirement on messaging services like iMessage and WhatsApp to allow messages to be scanned for illegal content.
The report from the Financial Times says, “The UK Government will concede it will not use controversial powers in the online safety bill to scan messaging apps for harmful content until it is “technically feasible” to do so, postponing measures that critics say threaten users’ privacy.
A planned statement to the House of Lords on Wednesday afternoon will reportedly mark an eleventh-hour bid by ministers to end a stand-off with tech companies, including WhatsApp, which has threatened to pull its services from the UK over what they claimed was an “intolerable threat to millions of users” security.”
Despite the report from the Financial Times, Technology Minister, Michelle Donelan told Times Radio, as reported by Reuters, that the UK was not backing down from the encryption row and nothing had changed.
« We haven’t changed the bill at all, » she said.
« If there was a situation where the mitigations that the social media providers are taking are not enough, and if after further work with the regulator they still can’t demonstrate that they can meet the requirements within the bill, then the conversation about technology around encryption takes place, » she said.
On September 6, the EU announced that Apple was one of six companies deemed a gatekeeper in the digital space, a landmark designation under the EU’s new Digital Markers Act. If iMessage is safe in the UK for now, we could see a world where iMessage works on British shores but not in mainland Europe.
Apple wins in the UK — iMore’s take
The fight for iMessage privacy (in the UK, at least) may not be as over as we’d thought, it seems. The UK Government’s main push for the Online Safety Bill was to protect children and push to find illegal child sexual abuse content. That said, forcing a company like Apple, which prides itself on user privacy and end-to-end encryption, to change its company ethos was always going to be difficult. Apple recently revealed that its dropped its own controversial plans to scan for CSAM material, due to concerns the tech was too intrusive and could be used and abused for other purposes.
Apple will hope that the UK encryption row is over, especially considering the potential impact of the landmark EU designation that could see the company forced to make significant changes to the way the company operates worldwide.
The iPhone 15, expected next week, is likely to be the first product with USB-C instead of the Lightning charging port, a decision in part forced upon Apple by new EU regulations. There’s a chance that USB-C is only the first of many changes coming to Apple’s products over the next few years if the EU’s landmark designation holds strong.