The United States, United Kingdom and Australia, in an open letter, dated 4 October urged Facebook to create backdoors into its encrypted messaging apps to grant law enforcers faster access to private messages. This would help the government to tackle child abuse, terrorism and organized crimes.
The open letter was signed by UK home secretary Priti Patel, the US Attorney General William Barr, Acting US Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and the Australian minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton on the grounds that cross-platform messaging encryption threatens public safety. It also aligns with UK and US’s agreement of “world-first” data access that will make cross border access to data easier and faster.
Earlier this process took from six months to a year however this agreement will speed up the process by weeks to even days as it will permit law enforcers to demand data directly from the company without asking the country’s government first.
Head of online child safety at the NSPCC Tony Stower said, “The landmark agreement between the US and UK on accessing data will radically reduce the time it takes for police to get hold of the data they need from tech giants to bring offenders to justice.
“It should be a hugely important step forward in tackling online child abuse – if tech giants play their part too.”
What is End to End Encryption?
In End to End Encryption, the key to access the message is only with the sender and the recipient, even the platform can’t access the content. And, to access the content the platform needs to add backdoors that they themselves and government can access.
Facebook owned, WhatsApp already has end to end encryption and in March 2019, following the data scandal and Facebook’s incompetence to protect its user’s data, Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to incorporate this encryption in messenger and Instagram.
With this open letter the governments of US, UK and Australia are pressuring Facebook to pause its plans of encrypting all messages. To which Facebook stand in opposition saying “people have the right to have a private conversation online.” Facebook states that it is “consulting closely with child safety experts, governments and technology companies and devoting new teams and sophisticated technology” to keep people safe.
Privacy or Public Safety
The letter chiefly focuses on child abuse and exploitation, considering the risk of easy access to offenders and criminals with encryption. In 2018, Facebook reported 16 million child-exploitation tips last year, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said that Facebook’s proposal to encrypt its popular messaging program would turn the platform into a “dream come true for predators and child pornographers.” (Sc Reuters)
The letter supports encryption but with backdoors that grants government “a means for lawful access to the content of communications”
Facebook spokesperson said “We believe people have the right to have a private conversation online, wherever they are in the world. Ahead of our plans to bring more security and privacy to our messaging apps, we are consulting closely with child safety experts, governments and technology companies and devoting new teams and sophisticated technology so we can use all the information available to us to help keep people safe.”
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) called the letter “ an all-out attack on encryption” and the organization cautioned that such measures could pose a risk to journalist and activists and could be used by “authoritarian regimes… to spy on dissidents in the name of combating terrorism or civil unrest.” (Sc Forbes)
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