wordpress blog stats
Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

‘Don’t introduce end-to-end encryption,’ UK, US and Australia ask Facebook in an open letter

USA, UK and Australia have signed an open letter (given below) “requesting” Facebook not to implement end-to-end encryption on its messaging services without including a way for the governments to access this content for the protection of citizens. This letter comes at the heels of the signing of the first Data Access Agreement between the US and the UK under the CLOUD Act which will allow the two countries to request access to electronic data in each other’s countries directly. MediaNama has reached out to Facebook for comment.

Who all signed the letter? US Attorney General William Barr, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan, British Home Secretary Priti Patel, and Australian Home Minister Peter Dutton

Why did they write the open letter? In March 2019, Facebook had announced that it would eventually introduce end-to-end encryption to all its messaging services. The three countries who signed the letter, and other countries who haven’t (including India), are wary of that as the law enforcement agencies would lose access to content that has helped them nab terrorists, paedophiles, and other serious criminals.

“… we must ensure that technology companies protect their users and others affected by their users’ online activities. Security enhancements to the virtual world should not make us more vulnerable in the physical world.”

Has lack of encryption actually helped the governments? As per the letter, yes. It states that Facebook’s own safety systems identified more than 99% of the content that Facebook took action against, both for child sexual exploitation and terrorism, which is also in Facebook’s transparency report. However, the transparency report doesn’t specify whether this content was flagged from public/private posts or private messages sent across Messenger. As per a New York Times report on prevalence of child sexual abuse material online, 12 million of the 18.4 million worldwide reports of such material were from Messenger.

  • The letter also states that Facebook made 16.8 million of the 18.4 million reports to the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). These reports, as per the UK National Crime Agency, led to more than 2,500 arrests last year by British law enforcement.

What do the governments want? While the term backdoor access has not been used in the letter, it is obvious that’s what the signatory governments want. They want Facebook and similar companies to take the following steps:

  • Let law enforcement get lawful access to content in a readable and usable format
  • Design systems in such a way that allows the companies to act against illegal content effectively
  • Consult with governments, and let those consultations influence companies’ design decisions
  • Not implement any changes till safety of users is fully ensured by tested and operational systems

“Companies should not deliberately design their systems to preclude any form of access to content, even for preventing or investigating the most serious crimes. This puts our citizens and societies at risk by severely eroding a company’s ability to detect and respond to illegal content and activity … It also impedes law enforcement’s ability to investigate these and other serious crimes.”

Is this an assault on user privacy? As per most privacy experts, yes. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) called it “an all-out attack on encryption” and “a staggering attempt to undermine the security and privacy of communications tools used by billions of people”. EFF said that the letter ignored the “severe risks” associated with introducing encryption backdoors:

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.
  • Risk to journalists, human rights activists, victims of abusive partners
  • Lack of protection from criminals and corporations from spying on our private conversations
  • Facebook would face immense pressure to make such backdoors available to authoritarian regimes as well

It is to be noted that an open letter has historically been a tool for private individuals and groups to make their concerns publicly heard and are usually addressed to the government and/or editors of major publications. The fact that the governments of USA, UK and Australia, with their elaborate state machinery and communication platforms have signed an open letter to the CEO of a private company is ironic, to say the least.

[embeddoc url=”http://staging.medianama.com/wp-content/uploads/open_letter_to_mark_zuckerberg.final__0.pdf” download=”all”]

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.
Written By

Send me tips at aditi@medianama.com. Email for Signal/WhatsApp.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



Looking at the definition of health data, it is difficult to verify whether health IDs are covered by the Bill.


The accession to the Convention brings many advantages, but it could complicate the Brazilian stance at the BRICS and UN levels.


In light of the state's emerging digital healthcare apparatus, how does Clause 12 alter the consent and purpose limitation model?


The collective implication of leaving out ‘proportionality’ from Clause 12 is to provide very wide discretionary powers to the state.


The latest draft is also problematic for companies or service providers that have nothing to with children's data.

You May Also Like


Google has released a Google Travel Trends Report which states that branded budget hotel search queries grew 179% year over year (YOY) in India, in...


135 job openings in over 60 companies are listed at our free Digital and Mobile Job Board: If you’re looking for a job, or...


Rajesh Kumar* doesn’t have many enemies in life. But, Uber, for which he drives a cab everyday, is starting to look like one, he...


By Aroon Deep and Aditya Chunduru You’re reading it here first: Twitter has complied with government requests to censor 52 tweets that mostly criticised...

MediaNama is the premier source of information and analysis on Technology Policy in India. More about MediaNama, and contact information, here.

© 2008-2021 Mixed Bag Media Pvt. Ltd. Developed By PixelVJ

Subscribe to our daily newsletter
Your email address:*
Please enter all required fields Click to hide
Correct invalid entries Click to hide

© 2008-2021 Mixed Bag Media Pvt. Ltd. Developed By PixelVJ