A hot potato: Apple has always been a passionate proponent of not weakening the security of its devices at the request of a government or law enforcement. The issue is becoming a problem for Cupertino in the UK, where changes to surveillance laws could force the closure of FaceTime and iMessage in the country.
The UK's Home Office wants to update its Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) 2016. The changes include giving the ministerial department the power to access encrypted content via a technology capability notice (TCN).
Apple said that the changes would also require it and other messaging services to clear new security features, including iOS updates, with the UK government before they are rolled out. The government requires the mandatory notification of planned changes to services that could have a negative impact on investigatory powers. The Home Office would also be able to demand that security features in updates be disabled.
Apple says that if it were to acquiesce to the request, it would effectively be granting the UK government control over security and encryption updates globally as further proposals require non-UK companies to implement changes worldwide. Apple insists it would not make alterations to security that would weaken a product for global users just to satisfy the demands of one country.
The proposals would "make the Home Office the de facto global arbiter of what level of data security and encryption are permissible," Apple wrote.
Apple has long stood firm against breaking its encryption and putting backdoors in its devices. The most famous case came in 2015 when the FBI made a request relating to the San Bernardino shooting. In that case, the feds demanded Apple crack the device used by the shooter, even going so far as to take the company to court. The agency subsequently accessed the contents on the iPhone with the help of a third party and dropped its demands.
Apple suggested that it could be forced to withdraw the encrypted FaceTime and iMessage services from the UK if the proposals go ahead.
"Together, these provisions could be used to force a company like Apple, that would never build a backdoor, to publicly withdraw critical security features from the UK market, depriving UK users of these protections," Apple said.
The iPhone maker added that the changes would "result in an impossible choice between complying with a Home Office mandate to secretly install vulnerabilities into new security technologies (which Apple would never do), or to forgo development of those technologies altogether and sit on the sidelines as threats to users' data security continue to grow."
An eight-week consultation on the proposed amendments to the IPA Act has been opened by the government.
Apple isn't the only company that has threatened to walk away from the UK. WhatsApp and Signal have objected to a clause in The Online Safety Bill, aka the snoopers charter, that requires the installation of technology in messaging services that can scan for child abuse images in encrypted messages.
The home office said the IPA Act was designed to "protect the public from criminals, child sex abusers, and terrorists."
"We keep all legislation under review to ensure it is as strong as it can be and this consultation is part of that process – no decisions have yet been made," a government spokesperson said.