Government Officials Urge Facebook to Block Private Conversations

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Government officials from the U.S., U.K. and Australia are urging Facebook not to implement end-to-end encryption in its messaging apps.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp already encrypts message contents, but the social media juggernaut is planning on introducing similar encryption on Instagram and Facebook Messenger, too.

Now, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, as well as officials from the UK and Australian governments, have penned a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking him to delay the company’s plans unless it can prove that the additional privacy won’t interfere with public safety.

In other words, the letter urges Facebook not to implement end-to-end encryption without some way for authorities to read those messages.

“Companies should not deliberately design their systems to preclude any form of access to content, even for preventing or investigating the most serious crimes,” the letter reads.

Specifically, the letter seems particularly concerned with child exploitation online, referring to encrypted message platforms with “open profiles” as “unique routes for prospective offender to identify and groom our children.”

The letter, dated Oct. 4, was obtained by BuzzFeed News ahead of publication. It’s meant to be released alongside the announcement of a new law enforcement data sharing agreement between the U.S. and the U.K.

In addition to Barr, the letter is also signed by acting U.S. Homeland Security Director Kevin McAleenan, U.K Home Secretary Priti Patel and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton.

Facebook, in response to the latter, said in a statement that it believes “people have the right to a private conversation online, wherever they are in the world.”

The company says it will consult closely with child safety experts, governments and other tech firms ahead of its plans to “bring more security and privacy” to its platforms.

Facebook was clear in its opposition to “government attempts to build backdoors,” however.

While Facebook is the target for this particular letter, there’s a broader struggle between technology firms and governments over end-to-end encryption standards.

Apple, for its part, has always opposed government backdoors. That famously peaked back in 2016 when Apple refused to help the FBI break into an iPhone owned by one of the San Bernardino mass shooters.

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