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In a statement released by Facebook Thursday afternoon, the company says it stands by its plan to build end-to-end encryption across its messaging services, despite reported criticism from U.S. Attorney General William Barr and others.
Facebook’s response addresses a news report published by BuzzFeed that suggest Barr and officials from the U.K. and Australia are expected to publish an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg on Friday, urging the Facebook co-founder and CEO to delay adding any additional encryption. The officials reportedly are concerned that encryption may prevent law enforcement agencies from discovering illegal activity, like terrorism, sexual exploitation of children, and election meddling, on Facebook. The letter also asks Facebook to allow law enforcement access to illegal content in a format they can use.
Facebook says it strongly opposes the suggestion, providing Fortune with the following statement:
“We believe people have the right to have a private conversation online, wherever they are in the world. As the US and UK governments acknowledge, the CLOUD Act allows for companies to provide available information when they receive valid legal requests and does not require companies to build back doors.
We respect and support the role law enforcement has in keeping people safe. Ahead of our plans to bring more security and privacy to our messaging apps, we are consulting closely with child safety experts, governments and technology companies and devoting new teams and sophisticated technology so we can use all the information available to us to help keep people safe.
End-to-end encryption already protects the messages of over a billion people every day. It is increasingly used across the communications industry and in many other important sectors of the economy. We strongly oppose government attempts to build backdoors because they would undermine the privacy and security of people everywhere.”
Zuckerberg announced the plan to expand encrypted messaging—something it already does on WhatsApp—across its family of apps earlier this year when he introduced a plan to make Facebook a more privacy-focused social network. But he also has admitted that encryption will complicate how Facebook polices its services—something the company already struggles to do.
The letter from Barr will likely come as no surprise to Zuckerberg. In leaked audio obtained by The Verge from a recent internal meeting at Facebook, Zuckerberg said he expects to have pushback from the government as the company gets closer to implementing the encryption.
“Law enforcement, obviously, is not going to be psyched about that,” Zuckerberg said in the internal Q&A session with employees. “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.”
Meanwhile Facebook has been facing mounting pressure from federal and state regulators. In June, the Federal Trade Commission announced an antitrust probe into Facebook, which was followed by a record $5 billion fine for its privacy practices a month later. Last month, nine states jointly began their own inquiry into the matter.
Since then, regulators reportedly have been talking to competitors like Snapchat, which recently alleged unfair cutthroat tactics by Facebook to squash its rivals.
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