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Facebook Encryption Could Lead to “One-stop Grooming Shop”, NSPCC Warns

Ross Kelly

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NSPCC

A leading children’s charity has warned that Facebook’s encryption plans could create dangerous conditions for children online.

The NSPCC believes that child sexual abuse will go undetected if the social media firm follows through with plans to encrypt messaging on Facebook and Instagram.

Facebook has made clear its intention to introduce end-to-end encryption on the Instagram Direct and Messenger features of both social networks.

WhatsApp, which is also owned by Facebook, already offers users encryption and has been an area of concern for law enforcement and security agencies in recent years.

In October, representatives of the UK, US and Australian governments penned an open letter demanding Facebook halt its plant to introduce end-to-end encryption across messaging services.

The letter claimed that the firm’s plans could threaten lives “and the safety of our children” by restricting law enforcement agencies from accessing communications.

Safeguards must be introduced before any encryption features are introduced, The NSPCC recommended, or the platform will no longer be able to monitor and report illegal content or activity to law enforcement agencies. “Police will be left working in the dark,” the charity warned.

Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, claimed Facebook’s plans will further enable offenders to operate discreetly.

“Instead of working to protect children and make the online world they live in safer, Facebook is actively choosing to give offenders a place to hide in the shadows and risks making itself a one-stop grooming shop,” he said.

“If Facebook fails to guarantee encryption won’t be detrimental to children’s safety, the next [UK] Government must make clear they will face tough consequences from day one for breaching their duty of care.”

Data obtained by the NSPCC through freedom of information requests showed that in the past year, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were used in child abuse image and online child sexual offences 11 times per day.

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Police in England and Wales revealed that 9,000 instances were recorded where the method of communication was known. Of this, 2,009 instances were reported on Instagram, while 1,719 were flagged on Facebook or its messenger feature.

Only 300 (or 3% of the total) offences were reported on WhatsApp between April 2018 and 2019, the NSPCC confirmed. Burrows insisted that these figures underline the great difficulty in cutting down on abuse carried out on the messaging service.

“For far too long, Facebook’s mantra has been to move fast and break things, but these figures provide a clear snapshot of the thousands of child sex crimes that could go undetected if they push ahead with their plans unchecked,” he said.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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