ReutersOct 04, 2019 14:55:45 IST
The United States and the United Kingdom are seizing on Facebook plan to apply end-to-end encryption across its messaging services to press for major changes to a practice long opposed by law enforcement, saying it hinders the fight against child abuse and terrorism.
The two countries plan to sign a special data agreement on Thursday that would fast track requests from law enforcement to technology companies for information about the communications of terrorists and child predators, according to documents reviewed by Reuters.
Law enforcement could get information in weeks or even days instead of the current wait of six months to two years, one document said.
The agreement will be announced alongside an open letter to Facebook and its Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, also signed by Australia, calling on the company to suspend plans related to developing end-to-end encryption technology across its messaging services.
The latest tug-of-war between governments and tech companies over user data could also impact Apple, Alphabet's Google and Microsoft Corp, as well as smaller encrypted chat apps like Signal.
Washington has called for more regulation and launched anti-trust investigations against many tech companies, criticizing them over privacy lapses, election-related activity and dominance in online advertising.
Child predators have increasingly used messaging applications, including Facebook’s Messenger, in the digital age to groom their victims and exchange explicit images and videos. The number of known child sexual abuse images has soared from thousands to tens of millions in just the past few years.
Speaking at an event in Washington on Wednesday, Associate Attorney General Sujit Raman said the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received more than 18 million tips of online child sex abuse last year, over 90% of them from Facebook.
He estimated that up to 75% of those tips would “go dark” if social media companies like Facebook were to go through with encryption plans.
Facebook said in a statement that it strongly opposes “government efforts to build backdoors,” which it said would undermine privacy and security.
Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, told Reuters the company was looking at ways to prevent inappropriate behavior and stop predators from connecting with children.
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