WhatsApp could be blocked in the UK if the Online Safety Bill passes, the head of the messaging service has warned.

Will Cathcart said he would sooner users in the UK were stopped from using the app than allow the Government to “lower the security of the product”.

The WhatsApp head said the company would not comply if the new bill forced it to scan messages for child abuse material, the BBC reported.

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

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“Our users all around the world want security – 98% 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?”

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

It 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 Bill could end up limiting freedom of expression.