An unprecedented coalition of child protection organisations has told Mark Zuckerberg not to ‘blindfold’ himself to child sex abuse on Facebook’s platforms.
A letter signed by 129 international organisations and academics said Facebook’s plans to encrypt messages risks more serious and sustained sexual abuse on its platforms.
In the first-ever joint action of its kind, experts from 102 countries signed the letter to Mark Zuckerberg asking him to not proceed with encryption plans until he can guarantee children’s safety won’t be compromised.
The letter, coordinated by the NSPCC, includes signatories from Australia, India and the USA and says any encryption plan should not jeopardise children’s safety.
It warns that encryption would damage Facebook’s ability to identify and disrupt grooming behaviour on its platforms and allow abusers to target children behind closed doors.
In 2018 Facebook made 16.8 million reports to the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) which the NCA estimates led to 3,000 children being safeguarded in the UK alone.
NCMEC estimates that end-to-end encryption could mean 70% of reports being lost – 12 million a year. The NSPCC claims this risks Facebook becoming a one-stop grooming shop and Zuckerberg himself admitted that his plans would protect the “privacy of people doing bad things”.
The letter states that Facebook has failed to address the concerns raised by child protection organisations about encryption.
NSPCC Chief Executive Peter Wanless said: “Facebook may be happy to shut their eyes to abuse but they can’t close their ears to this unanimous concern shown by international experts.
“Mark Zuckerberg has a choice whether to allow sexual abuse to soar on his sites or listen to those from all over the world asking him to rethink how to implement encryption without putting children at risk.
“In its current form encryption would breach Facebook’s duty of care for children so the UK Government must ensure a new regulator has the power to hold them financially and criminally accountable.”
The child protection coalition called on Facebook to:
- Ensure end-to-end encryption doesn’t inhibit their ability to scan for child abuse images and identify and disrupt abuse
- Embed a voluntary duty of care to protect children in its design decisions on encryption
- When encryption with safeguards comes in, share data with governments and child protection experts to be clear it does need lead to greater risks to children
- Stop the rollout of end-to-end encryption until sufficient safeguards for children are in place
UK signatories were the NSPCC, Stop It Now!, John Carr (Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety), Barnardo’s, 5 Rights, Coram BAAF and Kidscape.
It has also been signed by leading online safety academics Hany Farid of the University of South Wales, Dr Michael Salter of the University of New South Wales and from Willamette University College of Law Professor Warren Binford.