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DoJ claims end-to-end encryption disrupts investigations

US Department of Justice says data encryption compromises the ability of tech companies to identify and report child sexual exploitation and abuse

In an international statement released yesterday, the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) has claimed that end-to-end encryption technology poses challenges to public safety, including sexually exploited children. The statement was co-signed by the Home Department of the United Kingdom, the Australian Minister for Home Affairs, India, Japan, a New Zealand Member of Parliament, and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness of Canada.

The statement called on technology companies to work with governments and regulatory bodies to find a solution for strong data encryption acting as a barrier in the investigation of illegal activity and content. End-to-end encryption hinders law enforcement and creates “severe risks to public safety,” the department argued.

The DoJ stressed on the impact of encryption due to which only the senders and receivers can access the data being sent on “investigating serious crimes” and “protecting national security.” The statement further pointed out that encryption technology compromises the ability of tech companies to identify and report child sexual exploitation and abuse, violent crime and terrorist propaganda.

The statement cited a 2019 report from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) to explain that encryption needed to be implemented within frameworks that offer a solution to safeguard children.

“In 2018, Facebook Messenger was responsible for nearly 12 million of the 18.4 million worldwide reports of CSAM [child sexual abuse material to the NCMEC],” the DoJ said, citing a 2019 statement from the WePROTECT Global Alliance.

“These reports risk disappearing if end-to-end encryption is implemented by default since current tools used to detect CSAM do not work in end-to-end encrypted environments,” the statement explained.

Elected officials in the US have already acted to seek a legislative solution for investigating the illicit activities to which the DoJ referred. While proponents of such a law claim to propose it is in the interest of protecting children from sexual abuse, privacy advocates have heavily criticized the proposals.

Though the DOJ’s statement was focused on end to end encryption, the efforts would also be extended to “device encryption, custom encrypted applications, and encryption across integrated platforms.” The government agency further rubbished privacy concerns and stated that it would hold a “respect for privacy” at the forefront of any legal framework.

“We challenge the assertion that public safety cannot be protected without compromising privacy or cybersecurity,” the DoJ stated.

Written by Harshini Nag

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