Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

US, UK and Australia demand access to encrypted Facebook data

The three nations have said the security enhancements put people in danger

FFiile photo shows the Facebook logo on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square AP
FFiile photo shows the Facebook logo on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York's Times Square AP

The United States, the United Kingdom and Australia have put pressure on Facebook to allow government access to its encrypted messaging apps.

Following the social media giant’s announcement it would roll out encryption across its messaging platforms, political leaders from the three countries penned an open letter calling for backdoor access to the apps to prevent child exploitation and the spread of terrorist content.

"Security enhancements to the virtual world should not make us more vulnerable in the physical world," the letter from the three governments 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 letter asks Facebook to consult with countries before it launches end-to-end encryption.

Facebook, through the Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram apps which it owns, was responsible for the majority of reports to authorities in the US about terrorism and child exploitation.

“In 2018, Facebook made 16.8 million reports to the US National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) – more than 90% of the 18.4 million total reports that year,” the letter explains.

It also details how Facebook’s own transparency reports show the social media organisation’s platforms acted against 26 million pieces of terrorist content between October 2017 and March 2019.

Facebook has defended its new plans saying "people have the right to have a private conversation online".

The social media group added that it was in the process of "consulting closely with child safety experts, governments and technology companies and devoting new teams and sophisticated technology" to keep users safe.

The letter from the three governments came as the US and the UK signed what has been described as the world’s first data access agreement.

The arrangement allows both countries law enforcement agencies to access data from the other nation’s tech firms directly. As such, the agreement means the US will be able to request data from UK tech firms without going through government channels first and vice-versa.

“This agreement will enhance the ability of the United States and the United Kingdom to fight serious crime – including terrorism, transnational organised crime, and child exploitation – by allowing more efficient and effective access to data needed for quick-moving investigations,” US attorney general, William Barr, said of the new deal.

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Updated: October 4, 2019 04:12 PM

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