Apple threatens to pull iMessage from UK iPhones rather than weaken its security

Apple is threatening to pull its iMessage and FaceTime services from UK iPhones rather than weaken their security protections in order to comply with new surveillance laws that it calls a “snooper’s charter.” The company has been a vocal opponent of proposals to change the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016 to allow the government to access encrypted messages and disable privacy features on request, which it describes as a serious threat to user data and information.

The Rishi Sunak-led UK government is planning an update to the IPA that would give it the authority to require tech companies to add backdoors to their end-to-end encryption apps so authorities can scan them for child abuse images and other content. It’s a move that’s opposed by the likes of WhatsApp and Signal, as well as a number of tech industry groups. Apple has now stepped up its protests, and has said that it’ll shut down iMessage and FaceTime for UK customers if the proposed law is passed.

In a nine-page document filed this week, the company said that it wouldn’t make changes to its products for one country that would weaken them for all users and that any backdoors it might create could be compromised. It also pointed out that these types of changes typically require an app update, so they can’t be done secretly like the UK government wants.

The company argued that it shouldn’t have to immediately disable or block any features on demand from the Home Office, as the current IPA already allows for reviews and appeals for such requests. It said that the requirement to do so immediately would force it to take down services globally before they’ve even been reviewed or appealed.

It also objected to the requirement to notify the Home Office of all changes to its products, including regular iOS software updates. It noted that this would hand the UK government control over its product development and security, whereas currently there’s an independent review and an opportunity to appeal any such decisions.

The UK government hasn’t yet responded to the nine-page document from Apple. However, it’s expected to publish its consultation paper in the coming weeks, which will then go through an eight-week period for public comment. The final bill is due to be enacted by September 2021. Get the best of Silicon Republic straight to your inbox. Sign up for our Daily Brief to receive the 10 things you need to know today. We promise not to spam you. It’s free!

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