Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, has come under fire from a government minister who criticized the “remarkable ethical decision” to implement encryption in Facebook messages.
Security Minister Tom Tugendhat accused Meta of enabling child abusers to operate without consequences, stating that the company’s actions allowed them to act with impunity.
The introduction of end-to-end encryption (E2EE) restricts message access to only the sender and recipient, preventing anyone else from reading the content.
While Meta, the parent company of Facebook, claimed it would collaborate with law enforcement and child safety experts during the implementation of this technology, the government has consistently opposed such plans. Authorities argue that E2EE, also employed in platforms like Signal, WhatsApp, and Apple’s iMessage, hinders the identification of child sexual abuse material shared on these platforms.
Expressing his concerns, Minister Tugendhat emphasized, “By turning a blind eye to the epidemic of child sexual exploitation abuse, Meta is making an extraordinary moral choice. They are deliberately allowing predators to evade justice. This decision is both exceptional and noteworthy, and it is crucial to recognize who is responsible for it.”
Minister Tugendhat made these remarks during his speech at the PIER23 conference on combatting online harm, held at Anglia Ruskin University Chelmsford.
Specifically targeting Mark Zuckerberg, the Meta CEO, the security minister criticized his decision-making, stating, “I am referring specifically to Meta and the choices made by Mark Zuckerberg himself. These choices rest solely on his shoulders.”
In the near future, the government plans to launch an advertising campaign aimed at informing parents about Meta’s choices and their potential impact on child safety. The campaign, disseminated through print, online, and broadcast media, intends to “encourage technology companies to assume responsibility and make ethical decisions,” according to Minister Tugendhat.
Meta Counters: Encryption Keeps British People Safe, Says Meta
In response to the ongoing encryption debate, Meta has argued that the majority of British individuals already depend on encrypted apps to ensure their protection against hackers, fraudsters, and criminals.
The company emphasized its commitment to user privacy, stating, “We believe that people do not want us to read their private messages. Therefore, we have implemented safety measures that prevent, detect, and enable us to take action against such egregious abuses, all while upholding online privacy and security.”
Meta reported that millions of images are removed and reported on a monthly basis. Even WhatsApp, a platform owned by Meta and employing end-to-end encryption, made over one million reports in a year.
The Home Office has previously launched campaigns, such as the No Place to Hide campaign last year, which urged Facebook to abandon its plans for end-to-end encryption. However, the Information Commissioner’s Office, the data watchdog, criticized the campaign and urged Facebook to promptly implement encryption, highlighting its role in safeguarding children from criminals and abusers.
The Online Safety Bill, currently undergoing parliamentary scrutiny, includes provisions that could empower the communication regulator Ofcom to direct platforms to utilize accredited technology for scanning message contents.
In the past, several messaging platforms, including Signal and WhatsApp, informed that they would refuse to compromise the privacy of their encrypted messaging systems if compelled to do so.
The government argues that it is feasible to develop technological solutions that allow for scanning encrypted messages for child abuse material. However, tech experts contend that the only way to achieve this would be through client-side scanning, which involves installing software on devices to scan messages before transmission. Critics argue that such an approach fundamentally undermines message privacy, likening it to digging a hole under a fence without breaking the fence.
Apple previously experimented with client-side scanning but discontinued it due to public backlash. Former National Cyber Security Centre boss Ciaran Martin, in an FT article, suggested that Apple privately criticizes the powers outlined in the bill, although the company has yet to publicly disclose its stance on the matter.
According to Freedom of Information requests, Apple has had four meetings with the Ofcom team responsible for enforcing the relevant section of the bill since April 2022.