Meta (formerly Facebook) will push the enabling of end-to-end encryption across its messaging platforms to 2023, the company’s head of safety Antigone Davis announced in an op-ed for The Telegraph on November 20. Earlier, Facebook had said that it would finish adding the feature by 2022.
Davis cited the safety of users, especially those that are underage, as the reason behind the delay. She also mentioned the needs of law enforcement agencies for data from companies like Meta.
End-to-end encryption allows dissidents and activists to be secure but governments and law enforcement agencies across the world, including in India, have pushed for a backdoor in order to crack down on criminals. For instance: the traceability mandate in India’s controversial IT Rules, 2021 that’s currently being challenged by WhatsApp in court.
What else did Davis reveal?
In 2019, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that all of Facebook’s messaging apps will have end-to-end encryption, like its messaging app WhatsApp; however, Davis’s article indicates that the company is now trying to walk a tightrope between guruanteeing user privacy and complying with requests for data from law enforcement.
“As we roll out end-to-end encryption we will use a combination of non-encrypted data across our apps, account information and reports from users to keep them safe in a privacy-protected way while assisting public safety efforts,” Davis said.
Davis reiterated some measures taken by Meta for user safety through a three-pronged approach:
- Restricting accounts that engage in suspicious activity.
- Allowing people to filter their messages, especially restricting messages sent to underage users.
- Encouraging users to report any suspicious messages.
Meta and its challenges on child safety
On Twitter, the announcement triggered another conversation about how Facebook’s 2019 decision to roll out E2E across its platforms had detrimentally impacted its child safety team. David Theil, who used to work on security and safety at Facebook, said that the decision led prominent people to resign from the team as the announcement was made without any roadmaps, and would significantly reduce the team’s effectiveness.
The company has been in hot water for being lax on child safety on its platform. In fact, internal documents leaked by whistleblower Frances Haugen showed that Instagram harmed the mental health of teenagers, and that the company looked to them as ‘a valuable but untapped audience’. After the documents were leaked, Facebook paused the rollout of Instagram Kids.
Earlier this month, a group of US state attorneys general launched an investigation into Facebook for promoting Instagram to children and young adults despite knowing that the platform causes physical and mental health harms.
Government crackdown on end-to-end encryption
Apart from the IT Rules, which require significant social media intermediaries to allow governments to trace originators of messages, there are other global moves to break E2E:
Brazil: An amendment to the Brazilian Code of Criminal Procedure currently under deliberation by the Brazilian Parliament includes clauses that can ask software providers like WhatsApp to allow encryption of messages. The Brazilian Supreme Court is also hearing two cases on the matter.
Japan: The Japanese Criminal Procedure Code allows law enforcement agencies to request courts to order for the decryption of encrypted information during criminal investigations. While telecommunications carriers are obligated to cooperate with law enforcement agencies in decryption, they are not penalised for refusing to do so. They are also not legally obligated to build backdoors or ways to intercept communications.
- In 2020, India, along with other members of the five eyes intelligence alliance, signed an international statement asking companies to provide law enforcement agencies with backdoor access to end-to-end encrypted platforms.
- In 2019, UK, USA, and Australia wrote an open letter to Zuckerberg, asking him not to introduce end-to-end encryption to Messenger and Instagram Messenger without backdoors for law enforcement agencies, citing loss of access to content that helps agencies nab terrorists, paedophiles, and other serious criminals as the reason. In response, Messenger and WhatsApp refused to build backdoors citing privacy and cybersecurity. Over 129 signatories urged the company to resist introducing end-to-end encryption on Facebook’s messaging platforms while 58 civil society organisations supported the decision.
- WhatsApp petition against IT Rules 2021: Delhi High Court issues notice to government
- Facebook sued: Pension fund seeks damages for misleading investors
- Summary: WhatsApp alleges IT Rules are unconstitutional in lawsuit
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