Apple could pull iMessage and FaceTime from the UK if new government plans go ahead

Apple has said that it will remove FaceTime and iMessage from UK devices rather than weaken the security that the two features offer. The FaceTime and iMessage services are used by iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch users around the world but pending changes to UK law could require that Apple alter how they work.

The UK government wants to change the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) 2016, and it’s now running an eight-week consultation on the proposed amendments. But those amendments could change the technological landscape for users in the UK with Apple just one of the companies threatening to remove features and entire services.

Security and privacy clash

As part of the amendments, the government wants new security features for services like iMessage and Signal to be checked by the Home Office before they are released to customers. Currently, the Home Office can demand that security features are disabled without warning, but the process allows for appeal by technology companies and independent oversight is in place. Under the new proposals, the changes would be immediate, notes the BBC.

Many services, including iMessage, support end-to-end encryption which prevents anyone other than the message sender and recipient from being able to read its content. But a new clause in the Online Safety Bill would force companies to add features that scan messages for child abuse material, something that some have already said they will not do. Signal has promised to remove its service from the UK if forced to comply, while Apple has also voiced its opposition.

Apple in particular could find itself in a difficult situation in the UK. Much of its iPhone and Mac marketing revolves around the security and privacy of its devices and services, but giving the UK government a back door into its hugely popular and encrypted iMessage service would undermine that severely. Encryption is also a cornerstone of what has made Signal popular among journalists, government workers, and other high-risk individuals around the world. Removing that protection seems unconscionable.

Apple has reportedly submitted a nine-page document opposing the planned changes, opposing a number of things including having to tell the Home Office of any security changes before they are released. The requirement to immediately disable security features at the request of the Home Office is another point Apple opposes. The company goes on to say that it won’t make changes to its security features for a single country that would then weaken its products for global users.

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