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We need "legal access" to users' digital messages to fight crime



The US Department of Justice issued an open letter on Thursday evening requesting Facebook to change its plan to fully encrypt Facebook's news services – Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram – Interior Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and two senior police officers from Australia and the United Kingdom are calling on the technology giant to ensure that law enforcement officers have access to interviews when approved by a judge.

A draft of the letter was first published on Thursday by Buzzfeed News.

In short, officials are again calling for a digital equivalent of a listening device or what Justice Department officials often refer to as "lawful access".

Attorney General William Barr Mark Thiessen / AP

"Businesses should not purposely design their systems to exclude any form of access to content, including preventing or investigating the most serious crimes," it states in the letter. "This jeopardizes our citizens and societies as it seriously affects a company's ability to undermine, detect and respond to illegal content and activities such as sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children, terrorism and attempts by foreign opponents to undermine and respond to democratic values ​​and institutions Law enforcement is prevented by offenders and securing victims. It also hampers the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate these and other serious crimes. "

On Friday, Barr and other high-level officials will speak at the Lawful Access Summit about legal-proof encryption and its implications for child exploitation cases at the Ministry of Justice in Washington, DC.

Facebook recognizes the needs of law enforcement, but wants to protect its users from unwanted snooping.

"End-to-end encryption protects the daily news of more than a billion people." Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesperson, said in a statement. "We reject government attempts to build backdoors because they would undermine people's privacy and security everywhere."

In July, Barr warned of the dangers of a "non-proprietary" encryption, repeating a position advocated by many high-ranking US government officials from several governments who went back to the Clinton administration warned that "encryption" by terrorists, drug dealers and other criminals can be used ".

In recent years, Justice Department officials have not fully explained how they would be used to achieve the final goal they aspire to through federal law or executive authority, and there has been no substantial movement in Congress.

The letter from Thursday encountered resistance from Silicon Valley, including from the Computer & Communications Industry Association, an advocacy group of technology companies, including Facebook.

"Strong encryption is increasingly critical to the privacy and security of individuals' security and economic prosperity," said CCIA President Ed Black in a statement. "Businesses should be encouraged to develop and apply the security standards that the public expects for their devices and online activities.

In recent weeks, a number of technical and legal experts convened by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace have concluded that there should eventually be a middle ground and urged supporters to continue to find a meaningful solution to to find the annoyance problem.

"Advocates of cybersecurity should not automatically rule out the possibility of increased security, just as law enforcement officials should accept that they may not be able to access all the data they seek," they wrote.


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