Attorney General Pressures Facebook To Delay End-To-End Encryption, Citing Child Abuse Concerns

Attorney General Pressures Facebook To Delay End-To-End Encryption, Citing Child Abuse Concerns

Law enforcement are increasingly worried about the possibility of end-to-end encryption, which does not provide police with a way to access communications between potential suspects.

In an effort to impede Facebook’s plans to deploy end-to-end encryption for its messaging services, government officials from the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia published an open letter last week pushing CEO Mark Zuckerberg to hold off on implementing encryption. 

BuzzFeed News published a draft of the letter, dated Oct. 4, that was signed by U.S. Attorney General William Barr, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and the top homeland security officials in the UK and Australia, Priti Patel and Peter Dutton. 

While Barr has previously argued that end-to-end encryption would prevent law enforcement officers from properly investigating terrorist threats, the officials have now zoned in on how encryption can make it more difficult to catch and prosecute child sexual exploitation. 

“Companies should not deliberately design their systems to preclude any form of access to content, even for preventing or investigating the most serious crimes,” the letter reads. “Risks to public safety from Facebook’s proposals are exacerbated in the context of a single platform that would combine inaccessible messaging services with open profiles, providing unique routes for prospective offenders to identify and groom our children.”

The letter calls on Facebook and other tech companies to include methods for law enforcement to “obtain lawful access” to content in a readable and usable format; consult with governments about how this ability would influence design decisions; and not implement encryption changes until the company has ensured the “safety” functions are fully tested and operational. 

“As you have recognised, it is critical to get this right for the future of the internet,” the letter concludes. “Children’s safety and law enforcement’s ability to bring criminals to justice must not be the ultimate cost of Facebook taking forward these proposals.”

Tech companies and security experts have consistently argued that building “backdoors,” or ways to decrypt messages from outside of the communication, makes it more difficult to protect the encrypted communication from hackers or foreign governments. 

In its response to criticism from Barr and more recently FBI Director Christopher Wray, a Facebook spokesman said that the company is consulting with child safety experts, governments and companies to make sure encryption is safe. 

“End-to-end encryption already protects the messages of over a billion people every day,” the statement reads. “It is increasingly used across the communications industry and in many other important sectors of the economy.” 

The statement directly countered Barr’s request: “We strongly oppose government attempts to build backdoors because they would undermine the privacy and security of people everywhere.”

 

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