By Paul Sandle
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain urged Meta not to roll out end-to-end encryption on Instagram and Facebook Messenger without safety measures to protect children from sexual abuse after the Online Safety Bill was passed by parliament.
Meta, which already encrypts messages on WhatsApp, plans to implement end-to-end encryption across Messenger and Instagram direct messages, saying the technology re-enforced safety and security.
Britain’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman said she supported strong encryption for online users but it could not come at the expense of children’s safety.
“Meta has failed to provide assurances that they will keep their platforms safe from sickening abusers,” she said. “They must develop appropriate safeguards to sit alongside their plans for end-to-end encryption.”
A Meta spokesperson said: “The overwhelming majority of Brits already rely on apps that use encryption to keep them safe from hackers, fraudsters and criminals.
“We don’t think people want us reading their private messages so have spent the last five years developing robust safety measures to prevent, detect and combat abuse while maintaining online security.”
It said it would update on Wednesday on the measures it was taking, such as restricting people over 19 from messaging teens who do not follow them and using technology to identify and take action against malicious behaviour.
“As we roll out end-to-end encryption, we expect to continue providing more reports to law enforcement than our peers due to our industry leading work on keeping people safe,” the spokesperson said.
Social media platforms will face tougher requirements to protect children from accessing harmful content when the Online Safety Bill passed by parliament on Tuesday becomes law.
End-to-end encryption is a bone of contention between companies and the government in the new law.
Messaging platforms led by WhatsApp oppose a provision that they say could force them to break end-to-end encryption.
The government, however, has said the bill does not ban the technology, but instead it requires companies to take action to stop child abuse and as a last resort develop technology to scan encrypted messages.
Tech companies have said scanning messages and end-to-end encryption are fundamentally incompatible.
(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)