Why Facebook’s Plan to Use End-to-End Encryption is a Direct Threat to Millions of Children Worldwide
By Glen Pounder, COO, Child Rescue Coalition
Facebook’s much publicized and widely criticized move towards end-to-end encryption continues to concern the Child Rescue Coalition and other organizations that are involved in the protection of children. We know this move to give users privacy will hamper law enforcement’s ability to track and prosecute child predators on this giant social media network.
What is end-to-end encryption?
When any sender of a message wants to communicate with a receiver, they are (or would be) using a unique encryption only available to each other. Nobody else can access the messages either then or later – not even the service provider – for this example Facebook.
So, how will this harm children?
Right now Facebook provides millions of notifications every year to our friends at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. By Facebook’s own admission these reports would be drastically reduced as soon as end-to-end encryption is turned on. I’ve worked on these cases; they include the violent rape and sexual abuse of very young children, even of infants.
But surely Facebook is doing this to protect our privacy, right?
All of us at Child Rescue Coalition value the privacy of individuals everywhere. The right to privately express thoughts and ideas without being monitored by the government or private organizations is the least we deserve as human beings.
However, we also believe that privacy must be a qualified human right. To us, and our mission, this means when the rights of a child to grow up safe from the threat of sexual abuse are put at risk, then their innocence must be considered and addressed before any move to put privacy ahead of a child’s safety.
It is our opinion that the move towards encryption must also be qualified, and child protection concerns properly addressed before Facebook makes this change.
Isn’t this just fear mongering? Surely there are already laws which take care of children online?
U.S. Federal laws are crucial in this area because they are the laws which the large American social media companies, we all use on a daily basis, must comply with.
Think about this for a minute – the legislation specific to child safeguarding on the Internet was first considered in the mid-1990s and then put into law in the USA in 1998 (COPA – Child Online Protection Act). 1998!
In 1998 Mark Zuckerberg was starting high school.
In 1998 The Blockbuster Video Store Empire was still on the rise before reaching its peak in 2004.
In 2004 Facebook was founded.
In a free and democratic society, legislation often lags years behind due to the welcome innovation of technology. Legislation to protect children online is not years behind, it’s now decades behind.
The truth about end-to-end encryption.
If properly authorized search warrants or other legal processes are put into place, then law enforcement must be allowed to properly investigate the sexual abuse of children. This includes, when absolutely necessary, the invasion of the privacy of these highly dangerous individuals.
The challenges in child protection are already immense – let’s not make things worse for our kids by creating a world where those who have an illegal sexual interest in children become even harder for cops to investigate and identify.
Decisions with ramifications on this scale cannot be taken by CEOs, media magnets or entrepreneurs based on what they believe is right for our society. They must be taken only with careful thought towards the protection of the most vulnerable members of society, our children.
It’s the least they deserve.
We also asked Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the UK’s Policing Lead on Child Protection, what he thought of end-to-end encryption:
The internet has revolutionized the world but it has also a dark side and the abuse of children facilitated by technology has reached epidemic proportions. If companies like Facebook implement plans for end-to-end encryption, they will put millions of children’s lives and safety at risk and will knowingly turn their back on some of the most vulnerable in society. We all want privacy and to know our personal data is secure, but that privacy surely cannot be expected if it is being used to hide the abuse of children.