Meta allows child abusers ‘to operate with impunity’ says government minister

Meta is set to encrypt private messages on Facebook and Instagram

A government minister has criticised Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to roll out encryption in Facebook and Instagram messages.

Security Minister Tom Tugendhat accused Meta, the parent company of the social media sites, of “turning a blind eye” to an epidemic of child sexual abuse across its platforms.

He said the tech giant was allowing child abusers to “operate with impunity”.

End-to-end encryption means that only the sender and recipient of a message can read it; not even the third party messenger service can.

The Government argue this technology prevents law enforcement agencies from identifying and tackling the sharing of child sexual abuse images and videos.

Furthermore, there are concerns that encrypting private messages creates a much higher risk of children being violated because the groomers do not need to have their victims’ phone numbers and can instead message youngsters from their open profiles.

“Faced with an epidemic of child sexual exploitation abuse, Meta are choosing to ignore it and in doing so, they are allowing predators to operate with impunity,” said Mr Tugendhat, speaking at the PIER23 conference on tackling online harms at Anglia Ruskin University Chelmsford.

“That is an extraordinary moral choice. It is an extraordinary decision. And I think we should remember who it is who is making it.”

Meta, which also owns WhatsApp, said it would work with police and child safety experts.

The timing has drawn criticism, given that in the UK, the Online Safety Bill, which will effectively outlaw end-to-end encryption, is currently working its way through Parliament.

Recently, Twitter announced it has launched an encrypted messaging service for select users.

Mr Tugendhat has said that Government adverts will warn parents that it will be unsafe for their children to use Facebook and Instagram if Meta pushes on with its plans to encrypt messages.

“Let me be clear again, this government will not look away. We will shortly be launching a campaign, a campaign to tell parents the truth about Meta’s choices… and what they mean for the safety of their children,” he said.

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