Priti Patel will blast Facebook’s plan to introduce encryption technology that could help online paedophiles escape justice

  • Priti Patel to criticise Facebook plans to introduce encryption technology
  • Home Secretary to say tech companies have ‘moral duty’ to protect children
  • Will warn progress tackling online sex abuse will be undermined by proposals

Facebook’s plan to introduce technology that could aid online paedophiles will be heavily criticised by Priti Patel today.

In a major intervention, the Home Secretary will say that social media companies have a ‘moral duty’ to protect children from harm on the web.

She will warn that progress made in tackling online sex abuse will be undermined by ‘encryption technology’ – which is intended to improve online privacy but will make it virtually impossible to trace sex offenders.

It comes as children’s charity the NSPCC publishes research showing a majority of the public believe protecting young people online is more important than web privacy.

Facebook’s plan to introduce technology that could aid online paedophiles will be heavily criticised by Priti Patel (pictured) today

Miss Patel will say: ‘Sadly, at a time when we need to be taking more action, Facebook are pursuing end-to-end encryption plans that place the good work and progress achieved so far in jeopardy.

‘The offending will continue, the images of children being abused will proliferate – but the company intends to blind itself to this problem through end-to-end encryption which prevents all access to messaging content. This is not acceptable.

‘We cannot allow a situation where law enforcement’s ability to tackle abhorrent criminal acts and protect victims is severely hampered.

‘Simply removing accounts from a platform is nowhere near enough.’

In a major intervention, the Home Secretary will say that social media companies have a ‘moral duty’ to protect children from harm on the web (stock image)

Government, law enforcement and tech companies all ‘have a moral duty to act’, she will say in a speech at an NSPCC online safety conference.

It comes as an NSPCC poll, conducted by YouGov, showed public support for end-to-end encryption would almost double if platforms could demonstrate children’s safety would not be compromised.

Major tech firms currently use a range of technology to identify child abuse images and detect grooming and sexual abuse in private messages.

But concerns have been raised that proposals to end-to-end encrypt Facebook Messenger and Instagram would render these tools useless.

She will warn that progress made in tackling online sex abuse will be undermined by ‘encryption technology’ – which is intended to improve online privacy but will make it virtually impossible to trace sex offenders

There are estimates that 70% of global child abuse reports could be lost, according to the NSPCC.

The NSPCC says there is currently too much emphasis on the investigation of abuse after it has already taken place, rather than focusing on the loss of platforms’ ability to detect and disrupt abuse earlier.

Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: ‘Private messaging is the frontline of child sexual abuse but the current debate around end-to-end encryption risks leaving children unprotected where there is most harm.

‘The public wants an end to rhetoric that heats up the issue but shines little light on a solution, so it’s in firms’ interests to find a fix that allows them to continue to use tech to disrupt abuse in an end-to-end encrypted world.’

The NSPCC survey found that 33% of UK adults support using end-to-end encryption on social media and messaging services, a figure which rose 62% if tech firms could ensure children’s safety was protected.

Concerns have been raised that proposals to end-to-end encrypt Facebook Messenger and Instagram would render these tools useless (stock image)

It also found that more than half (55%) of adults believe the ability to detect child abuse images is more important than the right to privacy.

Over 90% supported social networks and messaging services having the technical ability to detect child abuse images on their sites.

Some 91% supported a technical ability to detect adults sending sexual images to children on their services.

Sir Peter continued: ‘We need a coordinated response across society, but ultimately Government must be the guardrail that protects child users if tech companies choose to put them at risk with dangerous design choices.’

Ms Patel is also expected to call on Facebook to deepen their engagement with the Government to embed the safety of the public in their system designs.

A Facebook spokesperson said: ‘Child exploitation has no place on our platforms and Facebook will continue to lead the industry in developing new ways to prevent, detect and respond to abuse.

‘End-to-end encryption is already the leading security technology used by many services to keep people safe from hackers and criminals.

‘Its full rollout on our messaging services is a long-term project and we are building strong safety measures into our plans.’

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