The encryption, the activists have said, will make it almost impossible for law enforcement agencies to access evidence or detect potential abuse.(REUTERS)
The encryption, the activists have said, will make it almost impossible for law enforcement agencies to access evidence or detect potential abuse.(REUTERS)

Activists write to Facebook against encryption, says it will dent bid to curb child pornography

The social network is working to extend end-to-end encryption across its social media messaging applications Facebook Messenger and Instagram.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON FEB 09, 2020 06:33 AM IST

More than 100 child protection organizations, including some from India, have urged Facebook to halt plans for strong encryption of all its platforms, saying the move will deal a blow to attempts to check the spread of child pornography.

The social network is working to extend end-to-end encryption across its social media messaging applications Facebook Messenger and Instagram.

The encryption, the activists have said, will make it almost impossible for law enforcement agencies to access evidence or detect potential abuse.

The letter was sent on February 6 and was initiated by UK-based National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and has been signed by more than 100 organisations. ECPAT International, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), SafeNet, and Child USA are some of the signatories. In India, the Chennai-based Tulir - Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse (CPHCSA) and Mumbai NGO Arpan have signed the letter.

Activists argued that while there was a “legitimate interest” among users to keep their data safe, Facebook has a responsibility to work with law enforcement agencies to prevent the use of its platform for grooming, sharing of child sex abuse imagery and the coercion of children for producing these imagery.

“As child protection experts, we cannot overstate the strength of our concerns… If Facebook Messenger and Instagram Direct are both seamlessly integrated into large open platforms, abusers will be able to exploit existing design aspects to make easy and frictionless contact with large numbers of children, and then rapidly progress to make end-to-end encrypted messages,” the letter reads.

The activists have called upon Facebook to halt the roll-out of the encryption process unless these concerns are addressed. They have also asked Facebook to invest in safety measures to scan for child abuse images, help government agencies with necessary data and consult child protection experts before making design changes on the platform.

As per NCMEC data, in 2018 alone, Facebook registered 16.8 million reports with it about child abuse imagery. In the UK, these reports led to 2,500 arrests. As per NCMEC estimates, if encryption is enforced, it will affect 70% of Facebook’s reports, or about 12 million reports.

“Strong encryption is critically important to keep everyone safe from hackers and criminals,” said David Miles, Facebook’s head of safety for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, according to news agency AFP.

“The rollout of end-to-end encryption is a long-term project, protecting children online is critically important to this effort and we are committed to building strong safety measures into our plans.”

Miles said Facebook was already working with law enforcement, government and technology companies to keep children safe online.

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