Meta risks ‘blindfolding’ itself to child sex abuse, agencies warn

Law enforcement agencies worldwide including the FBI and Interpol are slamming Facebook and Instagram parent Meta, alleging its plans to roll out expanded end-to-end encryption could effectively “blindfold” the company from detecting instances of child sex abuse.

The Virtual Global Taskforce, an alliance of 15 law enforcement agencies tasked with preventing the abuse, singled out Meta in a joint statement urging tech giants to consider proper safety protocols to protect children when implementing end-to-end encryption.

“The announced implementation of [end-to-end encryption] on Meta platforms Instagram and Facebook is an example of a purposeful design choice that degrades safety systems and weakens the ability to keep child users safe,” the Virtual Global Taskforce said in a policy statement.

The officials argue end-to-end encryption, while a sought-after privacy feature for secure communications, could make it more difficult for companies like Meta to identify criminal behavior occurring on their platforms.

“The VGT calls for all industry partners to fully appreciate the impact of implementing system design decisions that result in blindfolding themselves to [child sex abuse] occurring on their platforms, or reduces their capacity to identify CSA and keep children safe,” the agencies added.

“The abuse will not stop just because companies decide to stop looking,” the agencies added.

Meta is facing scrutiny over end-to-end encryption.

Meta has signaled plans to roll out end-to-end encryption for messages on all of its platforms – with one company executive once stating the feature would be enabled by default “sometime in 2023.” Meta-owned WhatsApp already offers the feature by default.

Earlier this year, Meta published a blog post detailing expanded end-to-end encryption on its Messenger platform.

The Financial Times was first to report on the Virtual Global Taskforce’s statement.

The outlet noted that UK lawmakers are currently working on an online safety bill that has drawn criticism from tech giants who allege it will hurt user privacy.

The proposed legislation would empower UK’s telecom regulator, the Office of Communications, to require companies to monitor some messages for instances of child abuse.

Law enforcement agencies want Meta to ensure proper safety measures are in place.
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An open letter signed by various tech bosses, including WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart, argued the bill would “give an unelected official the power to weaken the privacy of billions of people around the world” by monitoring encrypted messages.

Meta defended its safety practices in a statement obtained by the FT.

“The overwhelming majority of Brits already rely on apps that use encryption. We don’t think people want us reading their private messages, so have developed safety measures that prevent, detect and allow us to take action against this heinous abuse, while maintaining online privacy and security,” a Meta spokesperson said in the statement.

“As we continue to roll out our end-to-end encryption plans, we remain committed to working with law enforcement and child safety experts to ensure that our platforms are safe for young people.”

The Post has reached out to Meta for further comment.

Meta has faced intense scrutiny from US lawmakers over its safety practices, with critics arguing the tech giant hasn’t gone far enough to protect its underage users from harmful content and abuse.

As The Post reported earlier this month, online safety experts penned an open letter urging Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg to abandon the company’s plans to allow children and teen users to access its fledgling metaverse service “Horizon Worlds” due to concern about potential abuse.

The Virtual Global Taskforce consists of 15 law enforcement agencies from around the world, including the FBI, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Interpol, Europol and the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency, with the latter serving as the group’s chair.

The task force’s website describes the group as “an international alliance of 15 dedicated law enforcement agencies working together to tackle the global threat from child sexual abuse.”