Disgraced Trump administration Attorney General William Barr and his counterparts in the British and Australian governments plan to push Facebook for an encryption backdoor for WhatsApp and other messaging platforms (perhaps Instagram's just-launched Threads?).
The move would break the end-to-end crypto offered by WhatsApp, and give government investigators and law enforcement access to communications that for now are effectively secret.
BuzzFeed News first reported on Mr. Barr's draft of the letter, dated October 4, which is expected to be released tomorrow with the official announcement of a data-sharing agreement between UK and US law enforcement.
Excerpt from Buzzfeed News' coverage:
Signed by Barr, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, acting US Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, the letter raises concerns that Facebook's plan to build end-to-end encryption into its messaging apps will prevent law enforcement agencies from finding illegal activity conducted through Facebook, including child sexual exploitation, terrorism, and election meddling.
"Security enhancements to the virtual world should not make us more vulnerable in the physical world," the letter reads. "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 letter calls on Facebook to prioritize public safety in designing its encryption by enabling law enforcement to gain access to illegal content in a manageable format and by consulting with governments ahead of time to ensure the changes will allow this access. While the letter acknowledges that Facebook — which owns Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram — captures 99% of child exploitation and terrorism-related content through its own systems, it also notes that "mere numbers cannot capture the significance of the harm to children."
"Risks to public safety from Facebook's proposals are exacerbated in the context of a single platform that would combine inaccessible messaging services with open profiles, providing unique routes for prospective offenders to identify and groom our children," the letter reads.
Excerpt from the New York Times' coverage by Julian E. Barnes and Katie Benner, which is based in part on a letter signed by Barr and reviewed by The New York Times that is dated tomorrow, Friday October 4:
The move by Mr. Barr comes as President Trump has pressed for the unmasking of the whistle-blower who accused him of abusing his power in pushing Ukraine's president to open investigations that could benefit him politically. Mr. Trump's call for an investigation of the whistle-blower complicates Mr. Barr's push for Facebook to allow the government into its encryption system.
The Justice Department has not responded to requests for comment by the New York Times and other news organizations.
• Barr Pushes Facebook for Access to WhatsApp Messages [nytimes.com, Julian E. Barnes and Katie Benner]