Signal hints at leaving UK market following passage of online safety bill

Critics of the U.K. Online Safety Bill had pushed for amendments prior to passage, claiming the legislation could allow authorities a backdoor for end-to-end encryption services.

A bill aimed at regulating certain internet services in the United Kingdom, including activities in the metaverse, has passed through Parliament and awaits King Charles’ approval to become law. 

In a Sept. 19 announcement, the U.K. government said the Online Safety Bill had passed through a final debate in Parliament and will become law in the country “soon.” Lawmakers had previously debated whether the legislation aimed at protecting users online — particularly focusing on children — could extend to virtual environments like the metaverse.

According to the government, the final version of the bill will require social media platforms to “remove illegal content quickly or prevent it from appearing in the first place,” focusing on material deemed harmful to children. The firms will also need to release risk assessments for users, detailing how to report problems related to online safety.

“If social media platforms do not comply with these rules, [the Office of Communications] could fine them up to £18 million or 10% of their global annual revenue, whichever is biggest – meaning fines handed down to the biggest platforms could reach billions of pounds,” said the government.

Some opponents of the bill had pushed for amendments providing protections for end-to-end encryption, saying the legislation could allow the government a backdoor and undermine user privacy. In June, Apple reportedly said the then version of the bill “pose[d] a serious threat” surrounding “surveillance, identity theft, fraud, and data breaches”.

Meredith Whittaker, president of the Signal Foundation, said in a Sept. 20 X post that the encrypted messaging app could leave the U.K. if the firm were “forced to build a backdoor” under the Online Safety Bill guidelines. Her statement followed the final consideration of amendments in Parliament, in which lawmakers did not specify protections for such encrypted services.

Related: UK considers blanket ban on crypto investment cold calls

The passage of the Online Safety Bill came the same day as the House of Lords moved forward with the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, aimed at addressing crypto-related financial crimes in the United Kingdom. Lawmakers will consider final amendments to the legislation before passage, but the most recent version would seemingly allow U.K. authorities to have greater power in investigating and seizing crypto used for illicit purposes.

On Sept. 1, the U.K. Travel Rule applying to crypto firms offering services to residents went into effect, following adoption in countries including the United States, Japan, and Germany. The framework could require firms to halt certain crypto transfers from jurisdictions not already in compliance with the Travel Rule.

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