WASHINGTON — New opponents confronted Facebook last week as it moves forward with a plan to encrypt all of its messaging services: child welfare advocates who said that encryption would allow child predators to operate with impunity across the company’s apps.
“Facebook has a responsibility to work with law enforcement and to prevent the use of your sites and services for sexual abuse,” a group of 129 child protection organizations, led by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said in a letter to the Menlo Park company. “An increased risk of child abuse being facilitated on or by Facebook is not a reasonable trade-off to make.”
The letter indicates how activists and law enforcement agencies have seized on child exploitation as a new way to combat the expanded use of encryption in consumer technology.
The Justice Department and its counterparts in Britain and Australia previously used the threat of terrorist activity to rail against encryption, saying that tech companies were shielding malicious and dangerous criminals. But they have recently shifted their focus to child exploitation as tech companies have made good on plans to make it harder to see or stop illicit activity on those platforms.
Facebook responded, “Encryption is critically important to keep everyone safe from hackers and criminals.” The company said it is building safety measures for children and working closely with child safety experts.
“We have led the industry in safeguarding children from exploitation and we are bringing this same commitment and leadership to our work on encryption,” Facebook said.
Last March, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that he planned to knit together and encrypt the company’s various messaging services, including WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger. The products serve...