Europol asks tech firms, governments to unencrypt your private messages

In a joint declaration of European police chiefs published over the weekend, Europol said it needs lawful access to private messages, and said tech companies need to be able to scan them (ostensibly impossible with E2EE implemented) to protect users. Without such access, cops fear they won’t be able to prevent “the most heinous of crimes” like terrorism, human trafficking, child sexual abuse material (CSAM), murder, drug smuggling and other crimes.

“Our societies have not previously tolerated spaces that are beyond the reach of law enforcement, where criminals can communicate safely and child abuse can flourish,” the declaration said. “They should not now.”

Not exactly true – most EU countries do not tolerate anyone opening your private (snail) mail without a warrant.

The joint statement, which was agreed to in cooperation with the UK’s National Crime Agency, isn’t exactly making a novel claim. It’s nearly the same line of reasoning that the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international law enforcement group founded in 2003 to combat CSAM online, made last year when Meta first first started talking about implementing E2EE on Messenger and Instagram.

While not named in this latest declaration itself [PDF], Europol said that its opposition to E2EE “comes as end-to-end encryption has started to be rolled out across Meta’s messenger platform.” The UK NCA made a similar statement in its comments on the Europol missive released over the weekend.

The declaration urges the tech industry not to see user privacy as a binary choice, but rather as something that can be assured without depriving law enforcement of access to private communications.

Not really though. And if law enforcement can get at it, then so can everyone else.

[…] Gail Kent, Meta’s global policy director for Messenger, said in December the E2EE debate is far more complicated than the child safety issue that law enforcement makes it out to be, and leaving an encryption back door in products for police to take advantage of would only hamper trust in its messaging products.

Kent said Meta’s E2EE implementation prevents client-side scanning of content, which has been one of the biggest complaints from law enforcement. Kent said even that technology would violate user trust, as it serves as a workaround to intrude on user privacy without compromising encryption – an approach Meta is unwilling to take, according to Kent’s blog post.

As was pointed out during previous attempts to undermine E2EE, not only would an encryption back door (client-side scanning or otherwise) provide an inroad for criminals to access secured information, it wouldn’t stop criminals from finding some other way to send illicit content without the prying eyes of law enforcement able to take a look.


“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,” a Meta spokesperson told us last year. “It’s misleading and inaccurate to say that encryption would have prevented us from identifying and reporting accounts … to the authorities.”

In other words, don’t expect Meta to cave on this one when it can develop a fancy new detection algorithm instead.

Source: Europol asks tech firms, governments to get rid of E2EE • The Register

And every time they come for your freedom whilst quoting child safety – look out.

Robin Edgar

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