MISSING IN KANSAS: Advocates worry Facebook privacy change will protect child sex predators

The Justice Department and other world leaders say they are concerned with a plan to increase privacy on Facebook -- and how it could help child sex predators.

In an open letter released Friday, world leaders said implementing an end-to-end encryption could have devastating effects. It’s in response to a plan Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared in March, proposing a “A Privacy-Focused Vision for Social Networking.”

Zuckerberg wants to make social media a safe place to connect and be comfortable. Part of his vision is to keep messages private and secure. “End-to-end encryption prevents anyone -- including us -- from seeing what people share on our services,” Zuckerberg said in his announcement

"I understand that many people don't think Facebook can or would even want to build this kind of privacy-focused platform -- because frankly we don't currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services, and we've historically focused on tools for more open sharing. But we've repeatedly shown that we can evolve to build the services that people really want, including in private messaging and stories.

I believe the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services where people can be confident what they say to each other stays secure and their messages and content won't stick around forever. This is the future I hope we will help bring about."

- Mark Zuckerberg in his announcement

In the past, Facebook could all content on its site and report concerns to law enforcement.

The fear is this change would protect criminals and hurt vulnerable people, like children. It could be a dream for sex predators, child advocates say.

“Companies should not deliberately design their systems to preclude any form of access to content, even for preventing or investigating the most serious crimes,” the open letter states. “This puts our citizens and societies at risk by severely eroding a company’s ability to detect and respond to illegal content and activity, such as child sexual exploitation and abuse, terrorism, and foreign adversaries’ attempts to undermine democratic values and institutions, preventing the prosecution of offenders and safeguarding of victims.”

The letter was signed by Rt Hon Priti Patel MP, United Kingdom Secretary of State for the Home Department; William P. Barr, United States Attorney General; Kevin K. McAleenan, United States Secretary of Homeland Security (Acting); and Hon Peter Dutton MP, Australian Minister for Home Affairs .

They commended Facebook for working with law enforcement in the past, especially with cases where children are being exploited. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has received more than 55 million reports of child sexual abuse to its CyberTipline. In 2018 alone, it had more than 18 million reports. NCMEC expects more than half of those tips will vanish with end-to-end encryption — leaving abuse, like sharing child pornography or luring kids, undetected. 

“The abuse is graphic and violent, and the sharing of images online drives the market for offenders to create more images and abuse hundreds of thousands of children each year,” NCMEC shares in a recent statement. “Many of these children are infants – too young to cry out for help or identify their abusers. Many are abused by adults they trust – a parent, relative or babysitter. Many are enticed and blackmailed into producing sexually explicit imagery.”

John Clark, CEO and president for NCMEC, believes these crimes will continue, but increasing privacy will simply close a curtain to what happens online. It will only fuel a global epidemic, he said. 

“Privacy is important and we all agree, at the national center, we do respect everyone’s right to privacy,” Clark said. “What we’re looking at here is the ability to stop criminal activity from happening from images being sent around the globe over Internet service providers and encryption, if the end-to-end encryption happens it will literally stop our ability to find an discover that material.”

KAKE News has reached out to Facebook for comment on end-to-end encryption and concerns over how it may impact crime. We have not heard back from Facebook for comment. 

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