Government Policy

Officials push Facebook for way to peek at encrypted messages

SAN FRANCISCO Officials are calling on Facebook

not to use encryption in its messaging services that does not provide

authorities a way to see what is being sent.

The request was made in a letter signed by US Attorney General William

Barr, British home secretary Priti Patel and Australian minister for home

affairs Peter Dutton.

We are writing to request that Facebook does not proceed with its plan to

implement end-to-end encryption across its messaging services without

including a means for lawful access to the content of communications to

protect our citizens, said a copy of the letter obtained by AFP and dated

October 4.

The letter called on Facebook and other companies to make sure messaging

systems were not so well-encrypted that law enforcement couldn't see content

in a readable and usable format when needed.

The request, addressed to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, raises anew the

conflict between technology firms intent on protecting user privacy by

scrambling messages with encryption, and government agencies contending that

doing so would let wrongdoers hide their schemes.

The leading social network already encrypts WhatsApp messages from end-to-

end meaning only the sender and recipient can read the message, which is

saved in encrypted form and is working to extend the technology to other

apps in its family, including Messenger.

End-to-end encryption protects the messages of over a billion people every

day, according to Facebook.

It is increasingly used across the communications industry and in many

other important sectors of the economy, Facebook said in response to an AFP


We strongly oppose government attempts to build backdoors because they

would undermine the privacy and security of people everywhere.

During a live-streamed question session with employees, Zuckerberg said the

company recognized the challenge in balancing privacy with fighting crimes

such as child exploitation and terrorism, and was working with authorities to

get it right.

Having the availability to look at the content is a useful signal, and

when you lose that you are fighting that battle with at least a hand tied

behind your back and you hope there is a lot of good stuff you can do with

your other hand, Zuckerberg said.

He felt the scale was still tipped toward encryption, which can help

protect journalists, political protesters, and others.

Privacy has been a sore point for Facebook, and users have been clamoring

for encryption of messages, according to Zuckerberg.

Clues such as patterns of behavior and connections between accounts can be

used as signals of illicit behavior even if data in messages can't be seen,

he noted.

Scare tactics?

The nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), based in

Washington, contended that governments signing the letter were using scare

tactics to weaken security of global communications and build in


Strong encryption and end-to-end security are bedrock technologies that

keep information safe online, said CDT senior technologist Hannah Quay-de la


These technologies protect billions of communications every day, from the

sensitive correspondence of victims of domestic violence to businesses'

financial records to our private medical information.

Facebook early this year said it was trying to get its messaging apps to be

friends, allowing encrypted missives be exchanged no matter which of its

services are used.

The California-based social network is behind free, stand-alone smartphone

apps Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp.

Each service is popular, but users have to be in the same application to

exchange messages.


The joint letter to Facebook, paired with a freshly signed CLOUD data

sharing agreement between Britain and the US, should set off red flags for

citizens in both countries who care about governments monitoring and sharing

their communications, the CDT argued.

The CLOUD Act Agreement will allow British and US law enforcement agencies

to demand electronic data regarding serious crimes directly from tech

companies based in the other country, according to a Department of Justice


The agreement will allow more efficient and effective access to data

needed for quick-moving investigations, Barr said in the statement.

Only by addressing the problem of timely access to electronic evidence of

crime committed in one country that is stored in another, can we hope to keep

pace with twenty-first century threats, he added.

Facebook interpreted the CLOUD Act to allow technology companies to enable

users to have private online conversations and be required to provide

available information to valid legal requests not build backdoors into

encrypted systems.

Creating a law that would mandate weaker and less secure technology is

like mandating crumbling sidewalks to prevent criminals from escaping, said

Quay-de la Vallee.

It's ridiculous, it won't work, and it puts us all at far greater risk of

serious injury.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)