Representatives from the UK, US and Australian governments have penned an open letter requesting Facebook shelves plans to implement end-to-end encryption across its messaging services.
The letter claims that Facebook’s encryption plans could threaten lives “and the safety of our children” by restricting law enforcement agencies from accessing social media messages.
Home Secretary Priti Patel, US Attorney General William P Barr and Peter Dutton, the Australian Minister for Home Affairs, are among the signatories of the letter. Their decision to contact Facebook follows the signing of a data access agreement between the US and the UK, which aims to speed cross-border investigations and surveillance.
The Cloud Act agreement allows UK-based law enforcement agencies to request information from US technology companies, which relates to serious crime, terrorism and sexual abuse.
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“Tech companies like Facebook have a responsibility to balance privacy with the safety of the public,” the letter states. “So far, nothing we have seen from Facebook reassures me that their plans for end-to-end encryption will not act as a barrier to the identification and pursuit of criminals operating on their platforms.”
The letter continues: “Companies cannot operate with impunity where lives and the safety of our children is at stake, and if Mr Zuckerberg has a credible plan to protect Facebook’s more than two billion users, it’s time he let us know what it is.”
Facebook appears to be holding its ground following the publication of the letter, and responded saying that “people have the right to a private conversation”.
Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp has previously defended encryption policies, stating: “End-to-end encryption protects that right for over a billion people every day.”
The company added that it is exploring ways to improve safety across its platforms and is “consulting closely” with a range of child safety experts and governments on the issue. Additionally, the social media giant is collaborating with technology companies and “devoting new teams and sophisticated technology” in an effort to keep people safe.
Privacy rights groups have also weighed into the debate over encryption, with Big Brother Watch criticising the government’s stance as an attack on social media user’s privacy.
“The proposal for a government backdoor to global encrypted communications is one of the most damaging of the information age. It’s an attack on our ability to have private conversations online,” said Silkie Carlo, director at Big Brother Watch.
“Authorities already have a raft of strong powers to read the communications of targeted suspects. But seeking backdoors to Facebook platforms, which are used by the majority of the online world, would violate the privacy and security of over two billion people.”