Priti Patel slams Facebook as she says spooks should see encrypted conversations

Posted On: 
31st July 2019

Priti Patel has accused Facebook of making it harder for the police to investigate child abuse and terrorism cases as she called for spooks to be handed access to encrypted conversations.

Only senders and receivers can read WhatsApp message.
Louise Haywood-Schiefer | The House magazine

The new Home Secretary hit out at the use of end-to-end encryption to protect the privacy of Facebook and WhatsApp users as she said social media giants must not "empower criminals" with their products.

The comments came after a two-day behind-closed-doors meeting of ministers and officials from the 'Five Eyes' intelligence partnership, made up of the UK, US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

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Writing in The Telegraph, Ms Patel warned: "Where systems are deliberately designed using end-to-end encryption, which prevents any form of access to content, no matter what crimes that may enable, we must act."

She added: "The use of end-to-end encryption in this way has the potential to have serious consequences for the vital work which companies already undertake to identify and remove child abuse and terrorist content...

"It will also hamper our own law enforcement agencies, and those of our allies, in their ability to identify and stop criminals abusing children, trafficking drugs, weapons and people, or terrorists plotting attacks."

End-to-end encryption means that messages can only be decoded by the sender and the recipient, and tech companies have argued that any move to weaken such tools would empower hackers and make sensitive information more vulnerable.

But, in a joint statement, the Five Eyes nations said: "Tech companies should include mechanisms in the design of their encrypted products and services whereby governments, acting with appropriate legal authority, can obtain access to data in a readable and usable format."

US Attorney General William Barr added: "Encryption presents a unique challenge. We must ensure that we do not stand by as advances in technology create spaces where criminal activity of the most heinous kind can go undetected and unpunished.

"Indeed, making our virtual world more secure should not come at the expense of making us more vulnerable in the real world. We are grateful for the leadership of Home Secretary Patel in facilitating these critical discussions and shared commitment to safety for all."