Government officials from the US, the UK and Australia want Mark Zuckerberg to pause Facebook’s pivot to privacy, arguing that complete encryption on services like Facebook Messenger would prevent police from solving child exploitation crimes.
Those concerns are laid out in a letter to the Facebook CEO and will be presented at the Justice Department’s Lawful Access Summit in Washington, DC on Friday. The summit echoes a long-held view from the US, UK and Australian governments on encryption — calling on tech companies to provide access for law enforcement matters.
The letter is signed by US Attorney General William Barr, Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton. BuzzFeed News first reported details about the letter to Facebook.
“We are writing to request that Facebook does not proceed with its plan to implement end-to-end encryption across its messaging services without ensuring that there is no reduction to user safety and without including a means for lawful access to the content of communications to protect our citizens,” the letter writes.
Apple famously the US government on encryption in 2016 when it refused to build a backdoor key that would unlock a terrorist’s encrypted iPhone for the FBI’s investigation. Now Facebook will go up against the world’s governments on encryption.
“End-to-end encryption already protects the messages of over a billion people every day. It is increasingly used across the communications industry and in many other important sectors of the economy,” Facebook said in a statement. “We strongly oppose government attempts to build backdoors because they would undermine the privacy and security of people everywhere.”
Law enforcement officials argued that encryption protects child predators hiding behind the security protocol. According to the letter, Facebook reported about 16.8 million cases to the US National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in 2018. If Facebook encrypted its messaging services, it would not be able to provide crucial evidence for solving these cases, government officials said.
“Real children and real homes all across the country and across the world have been rescued as a result of that ability,” a US government official said on a press call on Thursday. “That goes dark. We don’t see that anymore. Those children go unrescued if that changes.”
Facebook said it was taking precautions with its encryption plans to continue protecting people using its platform. In a statement, the company said it was consulting with child safety experts, governments and tech companies while creating teams and software to keep people safe.
Government officials said that they were not trying to “demonize Facebook,” noting that the company had been very cooperative in the past with providing evidence on millions of cases of child exploitation in the past.
“There are very significant concerns that law enforcement officials have if Facebook were to end-to-end encrypt all of its platforms,” a US government official said.
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