A new law has been blamed for halving police warnings, according to activists, because it prioritizes online privacy over child violence.
Child abuse cases in Europe have more than halved as a result of new privacy regulations, prompting Facebook to suspend its encryption plans.
After the EU ruled that the scanning technology that identifies child abuse was a threat to Facebook users’ privacy, the social media site was forced to turn it off.
The move resulted in a 58 percent decrease in child abuse reports to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which then passes the details on to police all over the world to investigate.
The scanning turn-off, according to the NSPCC, is a preview of what could happen if Facebook goes ahead with its plans to implement end-to-end encryption of communications across all of its platforms.
It means the organization won’t be able to read and intercept messages as easily as it can now with its scanning technology.
“This staggering decline in reports means child sexual exploitation is going undetected and undisrupted, potentially leaving young victims without support,” Alison Trew, Senior Child Safety Online Policy Officer at the NSPCC, said.
“This also serves as a sobering reminder of the potential impact of end-to-end encryption in the UK, and why Facebook should hold off until they can guarantee that children’s protection will not be jeopardized.
“It’s critical that tech companies invest in engineering solutions to protect children in end-to-end encrypted settings, and this must be backed up by legislation that protects children from dangerous design choices.”
They have a thorn in their sides.
Your data can be encrypted in two ways using an online messaging service. It will store the encryption key on the provider’s servers, making it possible for law enforcement to subpoena it and decrypt your messages. End-to-end encryption, on the other hand, keeps the key to a chat session solely on the computers involved, ensuring the tech firm has nothing to hand over to the authorities.
This means that even if law enforcement has access to someone’s texts, they won’t be able to decipher them.
Governments who want to monitor criminals find end-to-end encryption a thorn in their hands. On Friday, US Attorney General William Barr sent an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, which was signed by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, acting US Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, and Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.
We are writing to ask that Facebook not move forward with its decision to introduce end-to-end encryption through its messaging services without first ensuring that user safety is not jeopardized and without providing a mechanism for lawful access to communications content to protect our people.
The letter urged Facebook to include the ability to view message content in the design of its systems, as well as to provide law enforcement with lawful access (meaning access to message content on the production of a warrant). When taking these measures, the organization should consult with governments and hold off on implementing the changes until it is certain that it is adhering to these principles, according to the letter.
The signatories also expressed concern that Facebook’s proposed encrypted messaging framework could be exploited:
The risks to public safety posed by Facebook’s proposals are amplified when seen in the sense of a single platform that would combine inaccessible messaging services with open profiles, allowing potential criminals to recognize and groom our children in new ways.