Facebook could soon become a “dream-come-true for predators and child pornographers” if the company pursues its encryption plans across its messaging services, according to FBI Director Christopher Wray.
Wray said in an opening speech at Department of Justice’s Lawful Access Summit on Friday that Facebook’s plan to integrate and encrypt its three messaging services, namely WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger, would seriously undermine the ability of law enforcement to catch online child predators.
“Facebook would transform from the main provider of child exploitation tips to a dream-come-true for predators and child pornographers,” Wray said. “A platform that allows them to find and connect with kids, and like-minded criminals, with little fear of consequences. A lawless space created not by the American people, or their elected officials, but by the owners of one big company.”
Facebook, according to Wary, is currently the top referrer of tips to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, accounting for more than 90 percent of more than 18 million tips each year. Wary said most of the tips Facebook provides are based on content, not metadata like timestamps showing when messages were sent. With end-to-end encryption deployed, however, Facebook would no longer be able to access the content of messages between its users, only metadata.
“Most of the tips Facebook currently provides are based on content,” Wary said. “This is a huge problem. Fighting it with metadata just isn’t going to work.”
The summit, hosted by the Department of Justice, comes as Attorney General William Barr, acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and his British and Australian counterparts called on Facebook to delay implementing additional encryption until they make sure law enforcement will still be able to access the private communications of suspects.
“We must find a way to balance the need to secure data with public safety and the need for law enforcement to access the information they need to safeguard the public, investigate crimes, and prevent future criminal activity,” the four government officials wrote in an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Oct. 4. “Not doing so hinders our law enforcement agencies’ ability to stop criminals and abusers in their tracks.”
In response to the letter, a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement that the company has been consulting with child safety experts as well as governments and other tech companies to ensure the security of its encrypted services.
“We respect and support the role law enforcement has in keeping people safe,” read Facebook’s statement released to Fortune. “We strongly oppose government attempts to build backdoors because they would undermine the privacy and security of people everywhere.”