WhatsApp boss warns the app may soon be illegal in the UK

Could WhatsApp be BANNED in Britain? Boss of popular messaging service warns the app may soon be illegal in the UK because it will refuse to weaken encryption for new Online Safety Bill

  • WhatsApp could be blocked in Britain if the UK’s new Online Safety Bill passes
  • That is the warning from boss Will Cathcart, who is Meta’s head of WhatsApp
  • He said app will refuse to comply with bill’s bid to outlaw end-to-end encryption

WhatsApp would rather be banned in Britain than weaken its security as part of the UK government’s flagship new internet legislation, the chat app’s boss has warned.

Will Cathcart, Meta’s head of WhatsApp, said the popular messaging service would refuse to comply with the Online Safety Bill if it attempted to outlaw ‘end-to-end’ encryption.

Speaking ahead of a meeting with UK legislators to discuss the proposed new law, he described the bill as the most concerning piece of legislation currently being discussed in the western world. 

‘End-to-end’ encryption secures messages by scrambling them and ensuring that only those sending and receiving them can read them.

WhatsApp cannot see messages sent over its own service, and so cannot comply with law enforcement requests to either hand them over for anti-terror purposes or to identify and remove child-abuse material, for example.

Stand-off: WhatsApp would rather be banned in Britain than weaken its security as part of the UK government’s flagship new internet legislation, the chat app’s boss has warned 

Will Cathcart (pictured), Meta’s head of WhatsApp, said the popular messaging service would refuse to comply with the Online Safety Bill if it attempted to outlaw ‘end-to-end’ encryption 

The UK government insists that it is possible to have both privacy and child safety.

But Mr Cathcart said that undermining the privacy of WhatsApp messages in the UK would do so for all its users worldwide. 


Hailed as groundbreaking regulation of the tech sector, the aim of the Online Safety Bill is to introduce rules to social media and other user-generated content-based sites that compel them to remove illegal material from their platforms, with a particular emphasis on protecting children from harmful content.

In addition, the largest platforms – such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – will have to tackle named forms of ‘legal but harmful’ content, which could include issues such as promoting self-harm or eating disorders.

Under the bill, all platforms in scope will have a duty to find and remove illegal content, as well as have clear and robust terms and conditions in place.

Companies which breach these new rules face fines which could run into billions of pounds for the largest services or face being blocked.

All this would be overseen by communications regulator Ofcom, which is set to become the new regulator of the sector.

‘It’s a remarkable thing to think about. There isn’t a way to change it in just one part of the world,’ he said.

‘Some countries have chosen to block it: that’s the reality of shipping a secure product. We;ve recently been blocked in Iran, for example. But we;ve never seen a liberal democracy do that.’

Mr Cathcart added: ‘The reality is, our users all around the world want security.

‘Ninety-eight per cent of our users are outside the UK. They do not want us to lower the security of the product, and just as a straightforward matter, it would be an odd choice for us to choose to lower the security of the product in a way that would affect those 98 per cent of users.’

The Online Safety Bill has been working its way through Parliament since being published in draft form in May 2021.

It is designed to help clamp down on online trolling and illegal forms of pornography by placing more responsibility on the platforms that internet users use.

As part of this, it allows the UK government or regulator Ofcom to require companies to scan the contents of messages sent through their platforms for illegal content.

However, doing so would likely force them to weaken or do away with their own security measures. 

The government insists that the bill ‘does not represent a ban on end-to-end encryption’ and that ‘we can and must have both’ privacy and child safety.

But it also does not explicitly state how it would be possible to monitor message content and continue their encryption, creating a ‘grey area’.

The Investigatory Powers Bill, which passed in 2016, already gives authorities the power to demand that apps begin scanning messages for illegal material, but they have yet to do so with WhatsApp. 

Mr Cathcart was openly critical of the Online Safety Bill in September, saying that it was ‘puzzling’ governments wanted to weaken security, not bolster it.

Messaging app WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption on all messages, scrambling them so that they cannot be read by anyone other than the intended recipient

The upcoming legislation has also brought criticism from Signal, another high-security messaging app.

It told the BBC it would ‘walk’ from the UK if it felt forced to weaken its privacy measures as a result.

Technology companies believe that encryption is essential for maintaining user confidence that their data is secure, and not susceptible to hacking.

Mr Cathcart said that, because WhatsApp is used all over the world, allowing UK authorities to reduce the app’s security would mean they would have to do the same for other countries. 

He added: ‘When a liberal democracy says, “Is it OK to scan everyone’s private communication for illegal content?”, that emboldens countries around the world that have very different definitions of illegal content to propose the same thing.

‘If companies installed software onto people’s phones and computers to scan the content of their communications against a list of illegal content, what happens when other countries show up and give a different list of illegal content?’

Therefore, he is urging the UK government to add wording that differentiates private messaging apps from other social networks.

Instead of just making statements about the importance of encryption, he said they should put it in writing that encryption will be protected in the Online Safety Bill.

Mr Cathcart said: ‘It could make clear that privacy and security should be considered in the framework. 

‘It could explicitly say that end-to-end encryption should not be taken away. 

‘There can be more procedural safeguards so that this can’t just happen independently as a decision.’

Number of crimes involving child abuse images soars by 66% in five years 

The number of crimes involving child abuse images reported to police has soared by two thirds in just five years, data shows.

Children’s charity the NSPCC said there were 30,925 recorded offences of the sharing or possession of indecent images of children in 2021-22 – a record high.

Just five years earlier the figure was 18,574, meaning numbers have surged by 66 per cent.

The charity, which obtained the UK-wide police data under freedom of information laws, said the 2021-22 figure included nearly 10,000 cases in which social media or a gaming site was used to distribute the illegal images.

Of those, Snapchat was recorded 4,293 times, Facebook 1,361, Instagram 1,363 and WhatsApp 547, it said.

Read more here 

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