WhatsApp could soon be ILLEGAL in UK warns its horrified boss - 'It's a bad thing'

WhatsApp UK ban

WhatsApp would be illegal in the UK under the Online Safety Bill

Richard Jeffries

By Richard Jeffries

Published: 11/03/2023

- 12:56

Tech chief warns freedom of speech under threat and that private messaging must be kept confidential

The head of WhatsApp has said the popular app could be pulled from Britain if the Government presses ahead with a controversial new law.

Will Cathcart said the company would not comply if the new Online Safety Bill forced it to scan messages for child abuse or terrorist material.

The messaging app uses encryption to ensure that even it cannot read users’ messages to ensure 100 per cent confidentiality.

The tech chief said: "Our users all around the world want security – 98 per cent of our users are outside the UK, they do not want us to lower the security of the product,” he said.

“We’ve recently been blocked in Iran, for example. We’ve never seen a liberal democracy do that.”

He added: “We won’t lower the security of WhatsApp. We have never done that – and we have accepted being blocked in other parts of the world.

“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,” Mr Cathcart said.

He added: “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?”

WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart

WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart says the company may withdraw the app from Britain


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

Under the bill, the Government or Ofcom could require WhatsApp to moderate content. But critics point out that's impossible without removing end-to-end encryption.

And if the company stayed in the UK and refused, it could face fines of up to four per cent of its parent company Meta’s annual turnover – meaning an enormous fine of around $5billion.

The bill includes other legal grey areas that could make it easier for regulators or government to demand apps weaken encryption. WhatsApp rival Signal has already said that it “would absolutely, 100% walk” from the UK if it was forced to break encryption.

WhatsApp stressed that it offers the same app globally, and that there is no way for it to comply with weakening encryption in the UK without doing the same elsewhere. It would not do that even if asked by the UK government, Mr Cathcart said.

Online Safety Bill UK

The Online Safety Bill would effectively make WhatsApp illegal in the UK


The bill 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.

In January, Wikipedia warned that the Online Safety Bill could end up severely limiting freedom of expression in Britain.

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