Facebook makes right call on privacy
December 29, 2019
U.S. Attorney General William Barr wants Facebook to give law enforcement “back door” access to its messaging services. Facebook officials have made it clear they have no intention of doing so.
That’s the way it should be. Protecting user privacy must remain paramount.
Barr sent a letter in October urging Facebook to postpone plans to implement end-to-end encryption of its Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp messaging services. Barr and his counterparts in the United Kingdom and Australia asked Facebook to create a way for law enforcement to access illegal content on the sites.
Facebook executives responded that creating any sort of back door for law enforcement “would be a gift to criminals, hackers and repressive regimes.”
“It is impossible to create such a back door for one purpose and not expect others to try and open it,” the executives said in a recently released letter.
That’s the problem with creating any type of access to encrypted data, even for the noblest of reasons. Law enforcement officials say it’s needed to prosecute criminals such as sex offenders or terrorists, and a warrant would be needed to access private information. But once that back door has been created, there’s no way to control who might access it and how they might use the information stored there.
A repressive regime, for instance, might access those messaging services to identify and arrest dissenters, thereby quashing protests. Hackers could target private information of prominent people for a variety of nefarious purposes.
Of equal concern is individual privacy. When the U.S. National Security Agency’s massive spying program was revealed in 2013, it turns out the agency was collecting information from Facebook, Google and other sources on U.S. citizens.
The debate over encryption technology has pitted tech companies against government officials for years, most notably in 2015 after the FBI unsuccessfully tried to unlock the iPhone of one of the shooters in the San Bernadino attack. When the NSA also failed to unlock the phone, the FBI asked Apple to create a back door into its iOS operating system. Apple refused, citing security and privacy concerns. Ultimately, the FBI used a third party to open the iPhone.
Facebook rarely gets it right when it comes to privacy issues, but in this instance the company is correct in refusing to unlock the encrypted data on its messaging services.
— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette