Government Expresses Concerns Over Facebook’s Proposals for End-to-End Encryption

Government Expresses Concerns Over Facebook’s Proposals for End-to-End Encryption

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, has written an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, the Chief Executive of Facebook, expressing concerns over Facebook’s proposals to implement end to end encryption across all its messaging services.  The letter is co-signed by the United States Attorney General, William Barr, the United States Secretary of Homeland Security (Acting), Kevin McAleenan, and the Australian Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton.

The government is worried high security encryption will impede the detection of criminal behaviour on Facebook. As more than 2.4 billion people use Facebook across the world Britain, America, and Australia would like to have access to the software systems the application uses for the prevention of crime.

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 letter puts forward the following recommendations:

• Embed the safety of the public in system designs, thereby enabling you to continue to act against illegal content effectively with no reduction to safety, and facilitating the prosecution of offenders and safeguarding of victims;

• Enable law enforcement to obtain lawful access to content in a readable and usable format;

• Engage in consultation with governments to facilitate this in a way that is substantive and genuinely influences your design decisions; and

• Not implement the proposed changes until you can ensure that the systems you would apply to maintain the safety of your users are fully tested and operational.

In response Joe Osborne, Facebook’s Corporate Communications Manager, has said, “We strongly oppose government attempts to build backdoors because they would undermine the privacy and security of people everywhere.”

Facebook appears to be undeterred from pursuing its objective, though Mark Zuckerberg has said that it will improve its automated systems to detect potential criminal activity.

The controversy looks set to continue into the foreseeable future.

Further information:

Home Office letter: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/open-letter-to-mark-zuckerberg

Recent news article: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/10/04/facebooks-zuckerberg-defends-decision-encryption/