Friday, 10 September 2021 11:04

UK to launch ad campaign against Facebook's encryption push Featured

UK to launch ad campaign against Facebook's encryption push Image by Dan Nelson from Pixabay

ANALYSIS The British Government has given a clear indication that it will launch an advertising blitz to fight Facebook's move to roll out encrypted messaging to all its apps.

The Times reported on Monday that Home Secretary Priti Patel was fully behind the launching of an ad campaign accusing Facebook of "blindfolding" police in their investigations into child sex abuse.

Newspapers, radio and television will run the ads which will try to galvanise public opposition to end-to-end encryption.

The sensitivity of users to reduction of privacy safeguards has been underlined by the shift from WhatsApp to Telegram and Signal after Facebook said it would be changing the privacy provisions for WhatsApp.

At that time, as iTWire reported, even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was found to be using Signal, the messaging app from Open Whisper Systems, which offers end-to-end encryption.

But the best advertisement for the continued use of encryption has come from the Australian Federal Police, with the revelation that it used existing laws to read the encrypted messages of criminal gangs and take them down.

An anti-encryption law was passed in December 2018 and its provisions were used to decrypt messages which were circulated within an app that had been used in a sting. Known as AN0M, the app was put out into circulation by a known criminal and then picked up by various others in the loop.

Despite this, the government pushed through a bill giving even more powers to the AFP and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission to obtain three new warrants so they could tackle serious criminal acts online.

Thus, the lack of evidence is unlikely to deter any government which is sufficiently determined to ram legislation through. In Australia, the Labor Party meekly assents to any law that deals with "national security".

In April, Facebook said in a post that it would be stepping up its moves to include end-to-end encryption in both Messenger and Instagram.

"Over the past year, we introduced a number of privacy and safety tools, including more privacy settings, an app lock, safer message requests, message forwarding limits and more," Gail Kent, Messenger policy director, wrote in a blog post.

"We’re also working hard to bring default end-to-end encryption to all of our messaging services. This will protect people’s private messages and mean only the sender and recipient, not even us, can access their messages.

"While we expect to make more progress on default end-to-end encryption for Messenger and Instagram Direct this year, it’s a long-term project and we won’t be fully end-to-end encrypted until sometime in 2022 at the earliest.

"Moreover, the safety features we’ve already introduced are designed to work with end-to-end encryption, and we plan to continue building strong safety features into our services."

The UK already has laws against encryption, the Investigatory Powers Act which is commonly known as the Snoopers Charter. The Australian law was modelled on that legislation.

Facebook ignored British requests to appear before parliament following the Cambridge Analytica affair in April 2018. One should not be surprised if it chooses to give London the finger once again and proceed with its encryption plans.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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