UK Govt Steps Up Assault on Encrypted Messaging Apps

Big Brother is watching You
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The British government is said to be planning a new propaganda push against encrypted messaging apps such as Facebook for supposedly preventing police from catching criminals.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has reportedly signed off on an advertising campaign to be conducted within the pages of newspapers, radio waves and television broadcasts within the coming weeks against social media companies deploying encrypted messaging services, effectively preventing the government from spying on its citizens.

While the Home Office is not specifically charged with producing the advertisements, Patel is “supportive” of the campaign, according to The Times.

The government will reportedly use the issue of child sexual abuse as a key reason for their opposition to preserving privacy rights on messaging platforms, claiming that the Facebook-owned WhatsApp service is “blindfolding” police.

A Home Office spokesman said: “Our No 1 priority is the protection of children and public safety. Technology companies must take responsibility for tackling the most serious illegal content and protecting their users, including our children.”

Currently, Facebook services such as Messenger and Instagram messages are not encrypted, however, the tech giant is planning on introducing end-to-end encryption as is used on its WhatsApp messenger.

A spokesman from Facebook 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. Encryption is the leading security technology . . . to keep people safe from hackers and criminals.”

The move from Facebook is in opposition to Apple, which announced last month that it would be using AI to scan iPhone messages and photos under the guise of “child safety”.

NSA whistleblower and privacy advocate Edward Snowden warned that the backdoor into the iOS encryption may soon be used for other means, writing: “How long do we have left before the iPhone in your pocket begins quietly filing reports about encountering ‘extremist’ political material, or about your presence at a ‘civil disturbance’?”

“Apple’s new system, regardless of how anyone tries to justify it, will permanently redefine what belongs to you, and what belongs to them,” Snowden warned.

In June, the civil liberties and pro-privacy advocacy group Big Brother Watch released a joint letter demanding that the British government remove the ban on end-to-end encryption from Priti Patel’s proposed Online Safety Bill, noting that removing the privacy feature would subject millions, including children, to the prey of cybercriminals.

“Banning end-to-end encryption, or introducing requirements for companies to scan the content of our messages, will remove protections for private citizens and companies’ data. We all need that protection, but children and members of at-risk communities need it most of all,” the letter stated.

“With more people than ever before falling prey to criminals online, now is not the time for the UK to undertake a reckless policy experiment that puts its own citizens at greater risk,” Big Brother Watch added.

Ironically, following reports that the European Union was planning on banning encrypted messaging, Lord Daniel Moylan said that it demonstrated the need to leave the European Union, writing: “Thank God we got out. It would have been excruciating hearing Remainers defend this.”

Yet, despite being free of Brussels, the Conservative government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson has sought to chip away at fundamental liberties, particularly following the outbreak of the Chinese coronavirus.

In a speech given in April, the Home Secretary said: “Sadly, at a time when we need to be taking more action… Facebook is still pursuing end-to-end encryption plans that place the good work and the progress that has already been made at jeopardy,” she said.

“Offending is continuing, and will continue – these images of children being abused just continue to proliferate, even right now while we are speaking. But the company intends to blind itself to this problem through end-to-end encryption which prevents all access to messaging content.”

“My view is that this is simply not acceptable,” she added.

While Patel has also had strong words in terms of the scourge of the grooming gang epidemic which has ravaged the country over the past few decades, the Home Secretary come under fire for being unable or unwilling to deport members of the Pakistani-heritage Rochdale child rape gang.

Greater Manchester’s Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Beverly Hughes criticised Patel’s lack of action on the case, saying in April: “All we have had are excuses but no action.”

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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