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U.K. government blinks; Apple to keep iMessage and FaceTime on U.K. iPhone units

U.K. government blinks; Apple to keep iMessage and FaceTime on U.K. iPhone units
U.K. government blinks; Apple to keep iMessage and FaceTime on U.K. iPhone units

Back in July, it appeared that Apple might remove iMessage and FaceTime from iPhone units in the U.K. The U.K. government’s proposed Online Safety Bill would give the Home Office the power to immediately disable safety features found in messaging platforms. The Home Office is the ministerial department of the U.K. government dealing with immigration, security, and law and order.
The bill, which updates the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) of 2016, would require that the Home Office clear a software update to a handset’s messaging applications before that update is disseminated to users. It would also demand that messaging services that offer encryption scan for images showing child abuse. But doing this would weaken the end-to-end encryption used on messaging apps including iMessage and as a result, Apple has strenuously objected to the bill.
Apple threatened to have iMessage and FaceTime removed from U.K. iPhone units rather than allow users’ security to be weakened. But now, Apple does not have to follow through on this threat. The Financial Times (via 9to5Mac) says that the U.K. government has removed from the Online Safety Bill the requirement that messaging apps featuring end-to-end encryption scan for illegal content including images of child abuse.

The government says that it will not force encrypted messaging apps to scan for illegal and harmful content until it is “technically feasible.” Members of the House of Lords were to release a statement today revealing that its battle with tech firms over the Bill was coming to an end-for now.

The tech firms’ threats to pull certain services out of the U.K. worked as consumers were afraid that they would not be able to access iMessage and FaceTime on the iPhone, and would not be able to use popular messaging app WhatsApp which also said that it would pull its services out of the U.K. if the Online Safety Bill passed.

In a statement, the U.K. government said, “As a last resort, and only when stringent privacy safeguards have been met, [the legislation] will enable Ofcom (Office of Communications) to direct companies to either use or make best efforts to develop or source, technology to identify and remove illegal child sexual abuse content – which we know can be developed.”

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