Apple could yank iMessage and FaceTime from iPhone in UK if new surveillance bill passes

Image showing iPhone with iMessage app open
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Despite the popularity of iMessage and FaceTime, Apple has revealed that it could soon remove both apps from the best iPhones in the UK.

The reason behind what will certainly be an unwelcome change is due to the fact that the UK government is currently in the process of updating 2016’s Investigatory Powers Act, according to a report from The BBC.

With this new update to the controversial surveillance bill, the UK government is trying to change things so that all messaging services (including those from Apple) will need to get the go-ahead from Home Office before rolling out new security features. As it stands now, there needs to be a review and tech companies can appeal before any action is taken.

It’s not just iMessage and FaceTime that are under threat from these proposed changes to the Investigatory Powers Act but all of the best encrypted messaging apps. Just like Apple, Signal has also threatened to leave the UK if these changes are made.

Apple is also taking issue with the fact that these changes would require it and other tech companies to inform the UK government about new security features in their products before they’re released. At the same time, the iPhone maker would need to take action immediately if the UK government asked it to disable or block a particular feature like end-to-end encryption.

As it stands now, the UK government has begun an eight-week consultation on the proposed amendments to the Investigatory Powers Act. Given the current backlash from Apple and other tech companies (not to mention their customers) though, these new amendments to the surveillance bill may not end up being improved. 

Analysis: Great for governments, terrible news for everyone else

Best Encrypted Messaging Apps

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

Governments around the world have long taken issue with end-to-end encryption as it prevents them from being able to keep tabs on what people are doing online. Likewise, this kind of encryption also prevents companies from accessing the contents of your messages or any files you have stored in the best cloud storage.

While there are now loads of different encrypted messaging apps including WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram, Apple really got the ball rolling when it added the feature to iMessage. If the UK government’s changes to the Investigatory Powers Act do go into effect, Apple could be forced to disable end-to-end encryption in iMessage without warning customers, putting both their privacy and data at risk.

If the UK government does have its way, the US and other countries around the world could follow suit and end encrypted messaging as we know it today. Hopefully that doesn’t happen though as journalists, political activists and others who handle sensitive information also rely on encrypted messaging apps in order to do their jobs.

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Anthony Spadafora
Senior Editor Security and Networking

Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.