Facebook's plan to encrypt messages will makes it easier to share child abuse images, say MPs

Facebook has been branded 'hopelessly naive' over plans to encrypt its messaging apps, as MPs warned the move will make it 'even easier' for paedophiles to share child abuse images.

Yvette Cooper said the proposals, which mean the social media giant will not be able to see the content of users messages on its Messenger and Instagram messaging services, would make it harder for the police to rescue children in danger of being abused.

Facebook defended its plan saying encryption was now considered the ‘industry standard’ for messaging apps, but conceded it would likely mean the police receiving fewer reports of child abuse.

The comments came as Facebook appeared before the Home Affairs select committee on Wednesday to discuss how it is addressing online harms. In 2019, Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to encrypt Facebook’s Messenger app, which has more than one billion users, as part of efforts to make the social network more ‘privacy focused’.

However, MPs heard that software that scans Facebook for child abuse images had lead to more the 2,500 arrests in then UK and 3,000 children being rescued by police.

US child safety organisations have predicted these police reports will drop by around 70 per cent when encryption comes in.

Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Vice President of Global Policy Management, told MPs the company planned to counter the loss of its ability to monitor messages by educating users to avoid harmful situations. Ms Cooper responded to the proposals saying: "This just sounds hopelessly naive when you have people who look for ways round systems and go to great lengths to perpetuate vile crimes against children.

"The kinds of things you are talking about are extremely easy for perpetrators to evade. You are making it even easier for them with end-to-end encryption."

Asked if she thought reports to police would go down after encryption came in, Ms Bickert replied: "I do think those numbers will go down, I do not believe that is only because we can’t see content".

She added that encryption was needed to fight other crimes such as data theft and identity fraud.

Last month, Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Child Protection, said the Facebook’s plan to encrypt its Messenger service showed the company was “not listening” to police.

He warned the public was not aware full “horror” of the sheer scale of online abuse and said tech giants were paying “lip service to the threat” to children.

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