Facebook ‘gives terrorists free pass’ with secret texts, warns MI5 chief
FACEBOOK has been criticized as giving terrorists and child molesters a “free pass” by the head of MI5.
The damning criticism targets Facebook’s plans to deploy end-to-end encryption.
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This would hide the messages so that no one can read them.
This is ostensibly to strengthen user privacy, blocking Facebook spying and some hacking attacks, but also to prevent security services from accessing messages.
Facebook’s WhatsApp is already encrypted and is optional on Messenger, but not yet on Instagram.
“Decisions made in California boards are just as relevant to our ability to do our job as decisions made in Afghanistan or Syria,” MI5 boss Ken McCallum said in an interview on Times Radio.
The MI5 boss warned that Zuckerberg had created digital lounges that could be exploited.
“Our job is to deal with one in a million cases where the lounge is a terrorist lounge,” said the head of MI5.
McCallum continued, “If you have end-to-end default encryption with no way to unpack it.
“In fact, you are giving those rare people – terrorists or people who organize child sexual abuse online, some of the worst people in our society – a free pass.
“Where they know no one can see what they’re doing in these private rooms.”
Facebook is currently trying to “merge” the behind-the-scenes messaging technology that powers Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram.
The idea is that users will be able to exchange messages to and from any Facebook platform. A WhatsApp user can chat with an Instagrammer, for example.
It would also mean encryption of messages sent across all platforms – rather than just WhatsApp.
End-to-end encryption means your message is scrambled into gibberish in transit and can only be read in its true form by the sender and receiver.
This is because the contacts involved in the chat each have a “key” that decodes the message.
No one else (including Facebook) can read the encrypted text.
This is an important privacy feature and already one of the defining features of WhatsApp.
In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said: “We have no tolerance for terrorism or the exploitation of children on our platforms.
“And [we] incorporate strict security measures into our plans, including using information such as behavior patterns and user reports to combat such abuse.
“We will continue to work with industry experts, law enforcement and security agencies to combat criminal activity and ensure the safety of people across all of our platforms.”
Today’s comments echo earlier warnings that Facebook was inadvertently helping child molesters.
In February, dozens of child safety groups drafted a joint letter urging Mark Zuckerberg to scrapped his encryption plans.
“Facebook may be happy to turn a blind eye to the abuse, but they cannot shut their ears to this unanimous concern expressed by international experts,” Peter Wanless, head of the NSPCC, told The Sun.
“Mark Zuckerberg has the choice of allowing sexual abuse to skyrocket on his sites or listening to those around the world and asking him to rethink how to implement encryption without putting children at risk.
“Encryption in its current form would violate Facebook’s duty to protect children. The UK government must therefore ensure that a new regulator has the power to hold them financially and criminally responsible.”
Child safety experts – including Child USA and the UK’s NSPCC – say this puts children at risk, however.
“Abusers will be able to exploit existing design aspects to establish easy and frictionless contact with large numbers of children,” the letter read.
“And then move quickly to sending end-to-end encrypted messages.
“This presents an unacceptable risk to children and would undoubtedly make your services unsafe.
“End-to-end encryption will encourage attackers to initiate and escalate abuse quickly directly to Facebook’s services.”
The letter adds: “We therefore urge you not to proceed with the deployment until and unless you can demonstrate that there will not be a reduction in the safety of children as a result of this decision.”
Encryption is a tricky issue for tech giants.
By encrypting messages, it becomes impossible for tech companies to control the content of those messages.
This, according to safety experts, puts children at increased risk of being targeted by predators.
But privacy experts (and Facebook itself) say encryption is vital for email security.
By placing a “backdoor” in messages, it exposes all users’ chats to government spy and hacking attacks.
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