Facebook plot to encrypt ALL chats 'will help child abusers to hide', former police chief warns

FACEBOOK risks helping child abusers to hide their sick online activities, a former police chief has warned.

The alarm has been raised over Facebook's plans to encrypt more of our private chats – shutting out hackers, but also the police.

Encryption jumbles messages in transit, and is widely accepted to be one of the best ways of blocking online snoopers.

But Sir Mark Rowley, a former assistant commission at the Metropolitan Police, said Facebook's encryption plans would "make it easier for criminals to flourish on their platform".

"I have lost count of the times my teams were unable to stop crimes in the UK, because of decisions taken thousands of miles away by Silicon Valley executives," Sir Mark said, as quoted by The Times.

He said that Facebook would be "blinding itself to serious crime".

"Without access to content, Facebook's AI will be able to detect only a tiny fraction of the criminality it currently identifies," he said.

"We consider our homes to be private, but if the police suspect a serious crime is being plotted in a safe house, it's entirely reasonable to expect them to get a warrant to bug that house.

"This is the digital equivalent."

Facebook is currently trying to "merge" the behind-the-scenes messaging tech that powers Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram.

The idea is that users will be able to message each other from and to any Facebook platform. A WhatsApp user could chat to an Instagrammer, for example.

This would also mean encrypting messages sent on all platforms – rather than just WhatsApp.

End-to-end encryption means your message is garbled into gibberish during transit, and can only be read in its true form by the sender and recipient.

That's because the contacts involved in the chat each have a "key" that decodes the message.

Anyone else (including Facebook) is unable to read the encrypted text.

It's an important privacy feature, and already one of the defining features of WhatsApp.

“Strong encryption is critically important to keep everyone safe from hackers and criminals," said a Facebook spokesperson, speaking to The Sun.

"It is already the leading security technology employed by many services to protect people’s chats and calls today.

"Facebook has led the industry in tackling terrorism and child exploitation online, including tripling the size of our safety and security team to 35,000 people in recent years.

"The rollout of end-to-end encryption is a long-term project and we are committed to building strong safety measures into our plans.

"We will continue to work with industry experts and law enforcement to combat criminal activity across all our platforms."

Today's comments echo earlier warnings about Facebook inadvertently helping child abusers.

In February, dozens of child safety groups penned a joint letter urging Mark Zuckerberg to bin his encryption plans.

"Facebook may be happy to shut their eyes to abuse but they can’t close their ears to this unanimous concern shown by international experts," Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief, told The Sun.

"Mark Zuckerberg has a choice whether to allow sexual abuse to soar on his sites or listen to those from all over the world asking him to rethink how to implement encryption without putting children at risk.

"In its current form encryption would breach Facebook’s duty of care for children so the UK Government must ensure a new regulator has the power to hold them financially and criminally accountable."

Child safety experts – including Child USA and the UK's NSPCC – argue that it puts kids at risk however.

"Abusers will be able to exploit existing design aspects to make easy and frictionless contact with large numbers of children," the letter reads.

"And then rapidly progress to sending end-to-end encrypted messages.

"This presents an unacceptable risk to children, and would arguably make your services unsafe.

"End-to-end encryption will embolden abusers to initiate and rapidly escalate abuse directly on Facebook's services."

The letter adds: "We therefore urge you not to proceed with the rollout until and unless you can demonstrate there will be no reduction in children's safety as a result of this decision."

Who is on Facebook's Safety Advisory Board?

Here's the official list…

  • Centre for Social Research (CSR)
  • Childnet International
  • Connect Safely
  • The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI)
  • Insight SA
  • iWIN
  • National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV)
  • Net Family News
  • Netsafe
  • SaferNet Brazil

Encryption is a tricky issue for tech giants.

By encrypting messages, it becomes impossible to tech firms to police the contents of those message.

This, safety experts say, puts kids at greater risk of being targeted by predators.

But privacy experts (and Facebook itself) say encryption is vital to the security of messaging.

By placing a "backdoor" in messages, it exposes all users' chats to government snooping and hack attacks.

"Strong encryption is critically important to keep everyone safe from hackers and criminals," said David Miles, Head of Safety at Facebook.

"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.

"We are working closely with child safety experts including NCMEC, law enforcement, governments and other technology companies to help keep children safe online.

"We have led the industry in safeguarding children from exploitation and we are bringing this same commitment and leadership to our work on encryption.

"Over the last few years, we’ve tripled the size of our safety and security team and now have more than 35,000 people working to protect the people using our platforms.

"We are also continuing to invest billions in safety, including artificial intelligence technology to proactively find and remove harmful content."

Facebook has shown no signs of backing down from its decision to roll out end-to-end encryption.

In other news, Facebook has announced a new digital wallet called Novi for its controversial Libra cryptocurrency.

Facebook Messenger uses AI to spot suspected paedos.

Facebook and Instagram have launched virtual shops where you can buy almost anything.

And a recent surge in users means that 2.6billion people now log onto Facebook every single month.

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