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Facebook could become a safe haven for paedophiles, warns Suella Braverman | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey

In a direct challenge to Mr Zuckerberg, the Home Secretary said she did not believe there needed to be “a choice between protecting children and privacy, which is why we are asking Meta to use their considerable expertise and their vast resources to design and implement measures that maintain child safety on their encrypted services”.

The National Crime Agency estimated there are up to 850,000 people in the UK who pose a sexual threat to children. Last year, the number of indecent image offences involving children jumped by 13 per cent to 34,485.

Meta accounted for 85 per cent of the 32 million referrals of images and videos of child sexual abuse to a US centre which then passes them to national police forces for investigation. This led to 800 arrests of suspected child sex abusers in the UK. It was this data that campaigners fear will disappear with the encryption rollout.

However, a Meta spokesman 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 developed safety measures that prevent, detect and allow us to take action against this heinous abuse, while maintaining online privacy and security. 

“We remain committed to working with law enforcement and child safety experts as we roll out end-to-end encryption.”

There shouldn’t be a choice between protecting children and privacy

By Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary

The thought of children being abused upsets anybody decent at an almost visceral level. And every adult has a moral obligation to do everything they can to protect children from abuse. 

Life presents all sorts of dangers to young people. The internet is particularly fraught with risks. Alongside its many and varied benefits, the reality is it also acts as a platform for child sexual abuse and exploitation of the most abhorrent kind.

This is not a small problem. There are more than 400,000 searches for online child sexual abuse material every month in the UK. The viewing and exchange of vile images and videos isn’t the whole story – rape and other abuse is live-streamed, and children are sold and even murdered live online. 

Describing some of this activity in detail would be impossible in a national newspaper, but suffice it to say that it is utterly evil.

It is important that people understand that this wickedness does not all take place in the dark corners of the internet on specialist illegal platforms. Paedophiles and other predators use the same social media platforms that the rest of us employ for innocent and normal activity. 

Last year, there were 32 million referrals to the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Meta’s platforms, Facebook and Instagram, accounted for 82 per cent of those referrals. 

The information that Meta and other tech companies give to UK law enforcement helps to protect about 1,200 children every month and leads to more than 800 arrests of suspected child sexual abusers a month.

With great power comes great responsibility

However, Meta plans to roll out end-to-end encryption soon without safeguards. This means Meta will no longer proactively detect and alert authorities to instances of child grooming and child sexual abuse material on Facebook Messenger and Instagram Direct once messages are end-to-end encrypted. This will be a huge advantage to anyone who wants to hurt a child.

The Government supports user privacy. It is essential for online financial transactions and people have a right to talk freely to their friends. But Meta is pursuing end-to-end encryption in a way that stops it detecting child sexual abuse. 

Social media companies have vast power, which must come with an adequately developed sense of responsibility. Meta’s platforms cannot become a safe haven for child sexual abusers. 

I will be writing to Mark Zuckerberg, along with my colleague Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, and various others, including children’s charities and campaign groups, to outline these concerns.

The Safety Tech Challenge Fund is a UK Government-funded challenge programme that supported the development of proof-of-concept tools capable of detecting child sexual abuse material within end-to-end encrypted environments. 

Through this, the Government, tech experts and wider industry partners have demonstrated that it would be technically feasible to detect child sexual abuse in environments which utilise encryption while still strongly maintaining user privacy. 

We believe there does not need to be a choice between protecting children and privacy, which is why we are asking Meta to use its considerable expertise and its vast resources to design and implement measures that maintain child safety on its encrypted services.

All partners must step up their game

Tackling child sexual abuse requires a “whole-system” response with all partners leveraging their unique capabilities and expertise to bear down on this threat. 

That is why the Government’s Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy, published in January 2021, sets out our long-term ambition to work with local authorities, law enforcement, international partners, the third sector, and industry to bring offenders to justice, prevent offending and reoffending, protect and safeguard young people, and provide support for all victims and survivors.

The Government has invested in new tools and capabilities to ensure that forces across the country have the technological tools available to them to identify and bring more child sex abusers to justice. 

Our major investment in the Advance Tools for Offender Management programme, providing more digital equipment to police forces, has supported hundreds of arrests and investigations in the first half of this year. 

We have also funded the Child Abuse Image Database to support better victim and offender identification. New capabilities like “fast forensic triage” mean searches of devices which previously took 24 hours can now be done in 30 minutes.

However, the responsibility to protect children online does not rest solely with governments and law enforcement agencies. Companies must also live up to their responsibilities. 

Our Online Safety Bill will, for the first time, place a duty on tech companies to proactively do more to keep children safe online. They will be accountable to an independent UK regulator and will need to remove and limit the spread of illegal content, including child sexual abuse and exploitation.

Global response for a global issue

Child sexual abuse is a global issue that requires a concerted global response. About 750,000 individuals are seeking children for sexual purposes at any one time online – whereby a child could be in one jurisdiction and the offender in another. 

We have to work with international partners to address this problem. This week I have been in New Zealand at the Five Eyes security conference, where I have been speaking to allies from the US, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada about driving forward our collective efforts to ensure social media companies put child safety first. 

They recognise the threat posed by Meta rolling out end-to-end encryption to our children and there was widespread support for our position. The UK is also working with international partners including through the G7 to improve global standards and encourage industry to play their part.

All of us, no matter how rich and powerful, have a duty to do all we can to keep children safe from abuse.


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