Apple threatens to yank FaceTime & iMessage from the UK over 'snooper's charter'

iPhone 14 with messages app open being held in front of green wall
(Image credit: John-Anthony Disotto)

Apple says that it will remove features like FaceTime and iMessage from devices sold in the United Kingdom if it is forced to abide by proposed security laws.

Those changes to an existing law, dubbed the "snooper's charter" by some, would require that companies like Apple more quickly react to the U.K. government's demand that security features be disabled to allow it to access people's data.

Apple employs end-to-end encryption across a number of services and this potential law change could see the government demand that it be given a back door into those services.

Privacy matters

Apple says that it will not make changes to security features for a single country that would then weaken security for all users. The BBC reports that Apple also warns that the new U.K. proposals "constitute a serious and direct threat to data security and information privacy" that would impact people globally, not just in the U.K.

Under the proposed law changes companies like Apple must act immediately if the Home Office demands security features are disabled — and do it without telling members of the public. Apple says that wouldn't be possible anyway because a software update would be required in order to remove its encryption technology. The U.K. Home Office can already make such demands, but they must first get past an independent entity and Apple can appeal any decision. That would no longer be the case if this amendment goes through.

Apple isn't the only company to have threatened to remove services from the U.K. if forced to compromise security. Instant messaging platform Signal has also said that it will "walk" from the U.K. should its encrypted messages be impacted.

Apple of course finds itself in a tricky position here. It's made a big thing about the iPhone offering strong privacy features including encryption. Effectively unlocking iMessage in particular would go against that "privacy is a human right" stance that Apple has become so famous for.

The best iPhone is, in Apple's eyes, a secure and private one. It's increasingly clear that the U.K. government would disagree. Its argument is that it needs access to users' data and communications so as to help prevent child abuse material from spreading online.

The U.K. government is now running an eight-week consultation on the proposed amendment to its Investigatory Powers Act.

Oliver Haslam
Contributor

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.

  • FFR

    Finally, a bit of backbone.
    Reply
  • Wotchered
    I’m from England,and I agree with Apple.
    Reply
  • EdwinG
    Wotchered said:
    I’m from England,and I agree with Apple.
    Yeah… same here. You simply can’t undo math 😅

    I don’t know if it is proper practice to contact the local MP in England/UK to let them know how unrealistic what they are doing is.

    As a Canadian, we can contact our MP of the House of Commons, or our MLA for the provincial legislature to voice our concerns — they will not necessarily listen, but it is Alana us worth a try 😄
    Reply
  • Wotchered
    It is perfectly proper practice. Whether the intended recipient ever gets to see it or not is one thing ! And the nasty suspicion that,that particular course of action would lay you open to a lifetime of unwanted political messages is another !!
    Reply
  • EdwinG
    Wotchered said:
    that particular course of action would lay you open to a lifetime of unwanted political messages is another !!
    I messaged about a bunch of issues to my (former) riding’s MP… I never received any political messages afterwards. Only acknowledgements that the message was received.

    Your experience might, and probably would, vary from mine 😅
    Reply
  • Wotchered
    I am pleased to hear you stayed free of spam politics from that source !
    Reply