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Priti Patel: Facebook is “Blinding Itself” to the Problem of Online Child Abuse

Ross Kelly

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Priti Patel

The NSPCC has warned that end-to-end encryption inhibits law enforcement’s ability to tackle online child abuse.

Tech companies have a “moral duty” to ensure children are safe online, Home Secretary Priti Patel is expected to say at a virtual event later today.

Hosted by the NSPCC, the roundtable discussion on end-to-end encryption will see Patel highlight the potential dangers of encrypted messaging and urge tech companies to “take the safety of children seriously”.

Private messaging represents the “frontline of child sexual abuse online,” according to the NSPCC.

Similarly, debates over the use of encryption has sparked an “either or” argument which the NSPCC claims is “skewed in favour of adult privacy” rather than the rights and safety of children.

Major tech firms, including Facebook, currently use a range of tools and technologies to identify child abuse images and monitor grooming or abuse in private messages.

The NSPCC has warned that Facebook’s recent proposals for end-to-end encryption on Instagram and its Messenger platform would render these tools useless.

An estimated 70% of global child abuse reports could be lost through the introduction of new encryption methods.

Speaking at the roundtable event, the Home Secretary is expected to suggest that Facebook is “blinding itself” to the problem of online child abuse, adding that new encryption policies will likely harm children in the long-term.

“Sadly, at a time when we need to be taking more action, Facebook are pursuing end-to-end encryption plans that place the good work and progress achieved so far in jeopardy,” she will say.

“The offending will continue, the images of children being abused will proliferate – but the company intends to blind itself to this problem through end-to-end encryption which prevents all access to messaging content.”

The Home Secretary will also warn that the government cannot allow situations where law enforcement agencies are hampered in their ability to tackle criminality.

“Simply removing accounts from a platform is nowhere near enough,” she will add.


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A recent survey conducted by YouGov found that one-third of adults across Britain support using end-to-end encryption on social media and messaging platforms.

However, survey data also shows that 62% of respondents would support encrypted messaging if tech firms could evidence that children’s safety is ensured.

More than half of respondents (55%) said that the ability to detect child abuse images online supersedes the right to privacy.

“The current debate around end-to-end encryption risks leaving children unprotected where there is most harm,” according to Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive.

“The public wants an end to rhetoric that heats up the issue but shines little light on a solution, so it’s in firms’ interests to find a fix that allows them to continue to use tech to disrupt abuse in an end-to-end encrypted world,” he added.

Sir Peter called for a “coordinated response across society” but warned that government still “must be the guardrail that protects child users if tech companies choose to put them at risk with dangerous design choices”.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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