FBI Director: Facebook Encryption Will Turn Platform into Child Porn Site

The FBI director is lobbing another grenade in the fight to crack down on security. He says that Facebook encryption will lead to child pornography.

It’s been a long-standing tactic by digital rights opponents: if you don’t like something, make wild accusations that child pornographers benefit. The tactic has been used in Canada to try and implement warrantless wiretapping (Canadians refer to it as Lawful Access). In recent months, the tactic is being used to try and crack down on security and encryption. The latest target is Facebook who actually did something right by trying to implement encryption in their messaging app.

Back in September, we saw the UKs NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) try and make this wild accusation by saying that encryption will automatically lead to child grooming. Those accusations, of course, were quickly debunked by those familiar with encryption. The obvious counterargument is that the accusations are based on a complete lack of understanding of how encryption works in the real world. A serious question raised is why children must be communicating on unsecured connections open to governmental spying and hackers.

Of course, that isn’t stopping governmental organizations from seizing on the opportunity to try and crack down on security. The FBI Director is seemingly perpetuating the myth that encryption will lead to child pornography. From Reuters:

FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Friday that Facebook Inc’s proposal to encrypt its popular messaging program would turn the platform into a “dream come true for predators and child pornographers.”

Wray, who was one of several top Justice Department officials on Friday to address a crowd of law enforcement and child protection officials in Washington, said that Facebook’s (FB.O) plan would produce “a lawless space created not by the American people or their representatives but by the owners of one big company.”

His speech ratchets up the pressure on Facebook as the U.S. and allied governments renew their push to weaken the digital protections around the billions of messages people exchange each day.

Wray steered clear of making any specific proposal, saying that “companies themselves are best placed” to offer a way for law enforcement to get around encryption.

“We’re going to lose the ability to find those kids who need to be rescued,” Wray said. “We’re going to lose the ability to find the bad guys.”

The comments closely mirror a very standard tactic. If they don’t get what they want, then the “bad guys” win. There isn’t really any specifics or evidence on how Facebooks encryption will somehow magically lead to this scenario. There’s just a series of absolute statements as if to say that there is no debate (even though the position is, at best, highly questionable).

Of course, one might ask why this anti-encryption campaign is even happening in the first place. After all, the idea of encrypting messages really is a non-controversial move to begin with. The fact of the matter is that such anti-encryption efforts lately is originating from the international arena.

Last August, we reported on the “five eyes” spy organization calling on world governments to crack down on security. The idea they are pushing is that they want all encryption compromised with backdoors. The consequences, obviously, is that this would make the online world a much less safe place. They really don’t care about consequences, though. The push is for the ability to access everything – a mentality similar to the “collect-it-all” attitudes when there was a push for warrantless wiretapping in the US in years past. Of course, this constitutionally questionable practice has gradually chipped away this civil rights black eye for the US in the years since then. So, these attitudes have a very long history originating in the US.

Facebook is likely the target mainly because it’s likely seen as the largest roadblock to putting an end to online security one and for all. After all, Facebook is a multi-billion dollar company that operates world-wide. Put a stop to their efforts to implement secure messaging, and the rest will surely fall with them.

Of course, this strategy is highly flawed. As many experts around the world point out in their respective debates, if “the bad guys” are using their encryption and it becomes compromised, then those “bad guys” will simply find another encryption service that is still secure in another country. This leaves private citizens and innocent people to suffer the consequences of using unsecured software – ultimately benefiting no one.

This scenario already has a pretty big precedent to boot. In the late 90s to 2000’s, file-sharing clients were largely centralized. Napster had a vast majority of file-sharers at one point. The record labels thinking was that if they shut down Napster, it would put an end to file-sharing altogether. That obviously didn’t happen as it gave rise to other clients like Kazaa, Napster, Limewire, and eDonkey2000. In fact, many clients had their own company behind them. Eventually, after various surprise wins in court and lobbying to change copyright laws, those companies eventually ultimately ceased to exist.

That, of course, didn’t kill off file-sharing by any means.

This lead to an open source movement for file-sharing clients such as eMule, Shareaza, and a multitude of BitTorrent clients on top of it all. Mass litigation of clients didn’t work, taking down the big names didn’t work, and, well, nothing really worked. Perhaps the one thing that the record labels have on their side that spy organizations don’t is the idea of changing their business model. After kicking and screaming, other entrepreneurs dragged the labels into the 20th century by creating models that adapt to a post CD store world.

This is the rabbit hole that the world is watching with encryption at this point. Facebook is being targeted because they are big. Someone out there is going to create an encryption service that defends against government intrusion. Sooner or later, an open source protocol or a group of people will emerge to take over where others left off in securing communications. Unfortunately for the spy organizations, there is no “change your business model” necessarily. It’s just a perpetual whack-a-mole fight that they will never win. Is this the path the spy agencies want to go down? With any reasonable expectation of privacy on the line, citizens everywhere would be reasonably expected to hope that the answer is “no”.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



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