Tech giants, especially social media platforms such as Facebook, have been supporting the use of end-to-end encryption as a method of protecting personal data and user security. End-to-end encryption allows only a sender or recipient to read a message. The NSPCC argues that this feature could impair the available tools to scan illegal or unlawful content which can then be reported to law enforcement bodies. The government is also concerned that the application of message encryption measures could hinder the authorities’ ability to obtain evidence of or prevent crimes, especially those relating to child abuse.
At the virtual conference hosted by the NSPCC on 19 April 2021, the Home Secretary Priti Patel urged Facebook to find a solution that navigates the competing interests, to protect both individuals’ privacy rights and the online safety of children.
With the government planning to introduce a new Online Safety Bill later this year, technology companies will face increasing pressure to safeguard their users from significant harm. We will need to wait and see whether this hampers the progress of privacy focussed developments, but what is clear is that innovation will be needed to find balanced solutions.
In her speech, the Home Secretary said that Facebook must take into account public safety when it makes changes to its platform - and in particular seriously consider the effect on children.