March 1, 2024
UK targets Meta’s encryption plans over child sexual abuse concerns



On Wednesday, the UK’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman unveiled a new campaign against Meta, urging the tech giant to rethink its plan to roll out end-to-end encryption (E2EE) on Facebook Messenger and Instagram.

The company aims to finalise the encryption rollout later this year, but the British government is worried that the move will hinder the detection of child sexual abuse.

According to the Home Office, 800 predators are currently arrested per month and up to 1,200 children are protected from sexual abuse following the information provided by social media companies. If Meta’s encryption moves forward, the National Crime Agency (NCA) estimated that 92% of Messenger and 85% Instagram direct referrals could be lost.

Based on these risks, Braverman is asking Meta to implement “robust safety measures” that ensure minor protection, or halt the encryption rollout altogether.

“The use of strong encryption for online users remains a vital part of our digital world and I support it, so does the government, but it cannot come at a cost to our children’s safety,” Braveman said in a statement.

The Home Secretary first outlined her concerns in a letter to Meta thispast July. But the company “has failed to provide assurances” ensuring protection from “sickening abusers,” she now noted, adding that “appropriate safeguards” are an essential requirement for its end-to-end encryptionplans.

In response (or even anticipation) of the government’s attack, Meta published yesterday an updated report on its safety policy for the messaging platforms.

“We are committed to our continued engagement with law enforcement and online safety, digital security, and human rights experts to keep people safe,” the company writes in the report — which includes measures such as restricting adults from messaging teens they’re not connected to on Messenger.

Nevertheless, the tech giant stresses its commitment to delivering end-to-end encryption as standard for Messenger and Instagram.

“We strongly believe that E2EE is critical to protecting people’s security. Breaking the promise of E2EE — whether through backdoors or scanning of messages without the user’s consent and control — directly impacts user safety,” argues the report.

But the UK government may be holding the upper hand in the dispute, now armed with the Online Safety Bill, passed by the parliament on Tuesday.

The legislation sets sweeping content rules for social media, even empowering Britain’s comms regulator, Ofcom, to force tech companies to monitor messaging services for child sexual abuse content — a provision that has, reasonably, sparked controversy.



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