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Signal warns it may leave U.K. over Online Safety Bill
On stage at AsumeTech Disrupt 2023, Meredith Whittaker, the president of the Signal Foundation, which maintains the nonprofit Signal messaging app, reaffirmed that Signal would leave the U.K. if the country’s recently-passed Online Safety Bill forced Signal to build “backdoors” into its end-to-end encryption.
Signal’s commitment to privacy
Whittaker made it clear that Signal’s commitment to privacy is unwavering. She stated, “We would leave the U.K. or any jurisdiction if it came down to the choice between backdooring our encryption and betraying the people who count on us for privacy, or leaving.” Signal firmly believes that privacy is paramount and will not compromise on it.
The implications of the Online Safety Bill
The controversial clause 122 of the Online Safety Bill has raised concerns. It gives Ofcom, the U.K.’s communications regulator, the power to break the encryption of apps and services in the name of removing illegal content such as child sexual exploitation and abuse. Companies failing to comply could face fines of up to £18 million ($22.28 million), or 10% of their global annual revenue.
Signal’s worry about a surveillance regime
Whittaker expressed deep concerns about the potential implications of the Online Safety Bill. She emphasized that Signal is worried about the people in the U.K. who would have to live under a surveillance regime. Signal takes significant measures to ensure user anonymity, regardless of the laws in a particular country.
Signal’s limited data collection
Signal’s commitment to privacy is reflected in its minimal data collection practices. Whittaker explained that the only data Signal has is the phone number registered to a Signal account and the last time a user accessed their account. Signal collects as little data as possible to guarantee privacy and actively avoids storing unnecessary information that could be breached or subpoenaed.
Signal’s success and hope for encrypted messaging
Signal’s dedication to privacy has contributed to its success. With approximately 40 million monthly active users and over 100 million downloads as of January 2022, the platform continues to grow. Looking ahead, Whittaker expressed hope that encrypted messaging would become the norm for all messaging apps. She cited Meta’s plans to implement end-to-end encryption on Facebook Messenger and Instagram, despite the challenges posed by the U.K.’s Online Safety Bill.
Respecting the norm of communication
Whittaker reiterated the importance of respecting the norm of communication in the digital space. She argued that conversations between individuals, be it with bosses or potential employers, should not be subject to surveillance or the risk of future subpoenas. For Signal, privacy should be upheld as it has been for “hundreds and hundreds of thousands of years”.