US Attorney General and UK/AU officials hit Facebook over encrypted messaging apps, Apple could be targeted too

After Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced this past spring that the company would build end-to-end encryption into all of its products and services, government officials from the US, UK, and Australia are set to share a public letter requesting Facebook halts its plan to include total privacy for its apps. And with Apple’s iMessage already featuring end-to-end-encryption, could it be targeted soon as well?

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BuzzFeed obtained the open letter penned by US Attorney General Bill Barr, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, US Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton that requests Facebook stop the current plans for end-to-end encryption over concerns about public safety.

Security enhancements to the virtual world should not make us more vulnerable in the physical world,” the letter reads. “Companies should not deliberately design their systems to preclude any form of access to content, even for preventing or investigating the most serious crimes.

The letter continues…

Risks to public safety from Facebook’s proposals are exacerbated in the context of a single platform that would combine inaccessible messaging services with open profiles, providing unique routes for prospective offenders to identify and groom our children.

The specific request is for Facebook to stop its current plans before achieving the vague goal of “ensuring that there is no reduction to user safety.”

We are writing to request that Facebook does not proceed with its plan to implement end-to-end encryption across its messaging services without ensuring that there is no reduction to user safety.

Notably, in recently leaked video footage, Zuckerberg talked about the battle the company was likely to face with governments over privacy.

“I actually wouldn’t be surprised if we end up having similar engagements like this on other socially important things that we’re trying to move, like our big push to get towards more encryption across our messaging apps,” Zuckerberg said in a closed doors July meeting with employees, according to leaked audio obtained by the Verge. “That will, over time, be very sensitive when we get closer to rolling it out.”

” Law enforcement, obviously, is not going to be psyched about that,” he added. “But we think it’s the right thing to protect people’s privacy more, so we’ll go defend that when the time is right.”

This is very similar to the conflict we saw Apple in with the FBI back in 2016 over the San Bernardino case. Apple ended up winning that round with the FBI backing off on legal proceedings to try and force the company to build in backdoors to its iPhones.

However, a third-party helped the FBI break into the iPhone in question. More recently, the DOJ ruled that the FBI had “inadvertently misled Congress when it said that it had exhausted all attempts to access the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino killers.”

With Apple’s iMessage already having end-to-end encryption, it may be likely that requests from Attorney General Barr and government officials from other countries won’t stop with Facebook.

If Facebook would push ahead with its end-to-end encryption, a new treaty between the US and the UK to share data from social media that is set to be signed this month would be rendered useless. At this time, some of Facebook’s apps and services are end-to-end encrypted like WhatsApp, but some are encrypted with the company still holding the keys that could potentially be handed over to authorities.

Facebook dabbling with end-to-end encryption goes back several years with its Messenger’s “Secret Conversations” arriving back in 2016.

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