DOJ Will Urge Facebook To Suspend End-To-End Encryption Plans, Give Law Enforcement Backdoor Access To Messages

In an effort to fight pedophilia, terrorism, and election meddling, the Department of Justice is slated to request Facebook suspend its plans for end-to-end encryption, insisting the tech giant delay implementation of the feature until it can ensure “that there is no reduction to user safety.”

Attorney General William Barr is set to urge Facebook to hold off on its encryption plans in an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

A draft of the letter, dated Oct. 4, which was obtained by Buzzfeed and the New York Times, was also signed by Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton. 

“Security enhancements to the virtual world should not make us more vulnerable in the physical world,” the letter reads. “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 DOJ has warned that end-to-end encryption will impede law enforcement officials from resolving illegal activity that transpires on the Facebook Messenger app.

The letter implores Facebook to “enable law enforcement to obtain lawful access to content in a readable and usable format” and effectively authorize government with exclusive access to messaging across WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger. The DOJ will request Facebook to allow the government to facilitate its partnership with law enforcement.

Facebook and other social media networks should “embed the safety of the public in system designs, thereby enabling [Zuckerberg] to continue to act against illegal content effectively with no reduction to safety, and facilitating the prosecution of offenders and safeguarding of victims,” the letter states.

In addition to the letter, the U.S. and UK are slated to sign a treaty that would mandate Facebook and other tech platforms turn over hand encrypted messages to UK law enforcement in instances related to “serious” criminality, like pedophilia, election meddling, and terrorism.

According to the New York Times, Facebook Messenger was responsible for nearly 12 million of the 18.4 million worldwide reports of child sexual abuse material last year.

Facebook has successfully captured 99 percent of child exploitation and terrorism related content autonomously, the letter states, but “mere numbers cannot capture the significance of the harm to children.”

“Risks to public safety from Facebook’s proposals are exacerbated in the context of a single platform that would combine inaccessible messaging services with open profiles, providing unique routes for prospective offenders to identify and groom our children,” the letter reads. “Companies should not deliberately design their systems to preclude any form of access to content even for preventing or investigating the most serious crimes.”

Zuckerberg has indicated he will push back against the government’s proposition to build backdoors.

“I actually wouldn’t be surprised if we end up having similar engagements like this on other socially important things that we’re trying to move, like our big push to get towards more encryption across our messaging apps,” Zuckerberg said in a closed-door July meeting with employees, according to leaked audio obtained by the Verge. “That will, over time, be very sensitive when we get closer to rolling it out.”

“Law enforcement, obviously, is not going to be psyched about that,” he continued. “But we think it’s the right thing to protect people’s privacy more, so we’ll go defend that when the time is right.”

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