Suella Braverman urges Meta not to 'go dark' detecting online child abuse

20 September 2023, 06:17 | Updated: 21 September 2023, 12:13

The Home Secretary has urged Meta not to "go dark" on detecting online child abuse
The Home Secretary has urged Meta not to "go dark" on detecting online child abuse. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has urged Meta not to 'go dark' on detecting online child abuse.

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Ms Braverman called on Meta to work with the government and enable police officers to "access online fora, acquire data (and) build investigations".

She accused the company - which is behind Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp - of failing to provide assurances that underage users will be protected from predators amid the rollout of end-to-end encryption on its platforms.

It comes after a similar intervention in July, when Ms Braverman wrote to Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg expressing her concerns about the planned rollout.

A survivor of child sexual exploitation online backed the Home Secretary and security minister Tom Tugendhat's calls for more protection for young people.

In a black and white video, she issued a stark warning to Mr Zuckerberg directly about the risk of other young people being subjected to the same as her.

"Dear Mark Zuckerberg, I was 13 when I was groomed online and sexually assaulted in my bedroom, but sharing my story of survival gave me strength," she said.

"No child should ever have to experience what I went through, and yet today, on your platforms, child sexual abuse is worse than ever. If you decide to implement end-to-end encryption without safety measures, this abuse will go undetected."

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Security minister Tom Tugendhat joined Ms Braverman in her calls for Meta not to "go dark" on detecting online child abuse
Security minister Tom Tugendhat joined Ms Braverman in her calls for Meta not to "go dark" on detecting online child abuse. Picture: Alamy

WhatsApp already offers end-to-end encryption by default, which prevents anyone other than the sender and recipient of a message from accessing its contents.

But Meta is now planning to add the feature to both Facebook Messenger and Instagram Direct chats later this year.

Ms Braverman said: "The use of strong encryption for online users remains a vital part of our digital world and I support it, so does the Government, but it cannot come at a cost to our children's safety.

"Meta has failed to provide assurances that they will keep their platforms safe from sickening abusers. They must develop appropriate safeguards to sit alongside their plans for end-to-end encryption."

Security Minister, Tom Tugendhat said: "Our law enforcement agencies are working day and night to crack down on child sexual abusers.

"The efforts of tech companies are crucial to their success. They have great influence over our lives, and with that power comes the responsibility to work with us to tackle this despicable abuse."

National Crime Agency (NCA) director of general threats, James Babbage, said if the company introduces end-to-end encryption as planned it will "massively reduce our collective ability" to protect children.

"We are not asking for new or additional law enforcement access, we simply ask that Meta retains the ability to keep working with us to identify and help prevent abuse," he said.

"This collaboration remains absolutely vital."

A Meta spokesperson said: “The overwhelming majority of Brits already rely on apps that use encryption to keep them safe from hackers, fraudsters and criminals.

"We don’t think people want us reading their private messages so have spent the last five years developing robust safety measures to prevent, detect and combat abuse while maintaining online security.

"We’re today publishing an updated report setting out these measures, such as restricting people over 19 from messaging teens who don’t follow them and using technology to identify and take action against malicious behaviour.

"As we roll out end-to-end encryption, we expect to continue providing more reports to law enforcement than our peers due to our industry leading work on keeping people safe."