Peter Dutton, Australia’s minister for home affairs, has joined global political efforts to pressure Facebook to water down its encryption advances across its messaging services.
Facebook is introducing end-to-end encryption across its messaging platforms – which includes Messenger, What’s App, Instagram, and now Threads – which would prevent anyone other than the sender and receiver from accessing the content. Dutton and a host of other politicians, however, claim the move will aid paedophiles, child sex traffickers and terrorists.
Facebook has been facing increased pressure in recent years to offer its users more privacy and guarantees around the safety of their data.
In March, the tech giant announced the end-to-end encryption plans, which founder Mark Zuckerberg conceded would come with some “really heavy” trade-offs.
Now, however, Dutton, along with US Attorney General William Barr, and acting Homeland Security secretary Kevin McAleean, as well as the United Kingdom’s home secretary Priti Patel, are calling on Facebook to make guarantees about those trade offs – mainly that government agencies be able to access users’ communications if need be.
An open letter from the co-operative to Zuckerberg urged him not to proceed with the end-to-end encryption plans without guaranteeing law enforcement agencies could gain court-authorised access.
“Use of end-to-end encryption, which allows messages to be decrypted only by end users, leaves service providers unable to produce readable content in response to wiretap orders and search warrants,” a statement accompanying the letter said. “This barrier allows criminals to avoid apprehension by law enforcement by limiting access to crucial evidence in the form of encrypted digital communications. The use of end-to-end encryption and other highly sophisticated encryption technologies significantly hinders, or entirely prevents, serious criminal and national security investigations.”
The three-page letter warns Zuckerberg terrorists, foreign adversaries and exploiters of children are all set to benefit under his company’s current plans, while everyday people – who have a reasonable expectation of privacy – will be at risk in the “real world”.
“Security enhancements to the virtual world should not make us more vulnerable in the physical world. We must find a way to balance the need to secure data with public safety and the need for law enforcement to access the information they need to safeguard the public, investigate crimes, and prevent future criminal activity. Not doing so hinders our law enforcement agencies’ ability to stop criminals and abusers in their tracks,” the letter says.
“Companies should not deliberately design their systems to preclude any form of access to content, even for preventing or investigating the most serious crimes. This puts our citizens and societies at risk by severely eroding a company’s ability to detect and respond to illegal content and activity, such as child sexual exploitation and abuse, terrorism, and foreign adversaries’ attempts to undermine democratic values and institutions, preventing the prosecution of offenders and safeguarding of victims. It also impedes law enforcement’s ability to investigate these and other serious crimes.
“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 group said it was committed to working with Facebook to find a solution.