After the UK Parliament passed the Online Safety Bill, Meta was urged not to roll out end-to-end encryption on Instagram and Facebook Messenger without taking safety measures to protect children from sexual abuse.

Meta already encrypts messages on WhatsApp and plans to implement end-to-end encryption in Messenger and Instagram direct messages, saying the technology enhances security.

British Home Secretary Suela Braverman said she supported strong encryption for online users, but not at the expense of children’s safety.

“Meta has failed to ensure that their platform is safe from disgusting abusers,” she said. “They must have appropriate protections in place to go with their end-to-end encryption plans.”

A Meta spokesperson said: “The vast majority of Britons already rely on apps that use encryption to protect them from hackers, fraudsters and criminals.

“We believe people don’t want us to read their private information, so over the past five years we’ve been developing strong security measures to prevent, detect and combat abuse while maintaining online safety.”

The company said it would update on Wednesday on measures it is taking, such as restricting people over 19 from messaging teenagers who don’t follow them and using technology to identify and take action on malicious behavior.

“As we roll out end-to-end encryption, we expect to continue to deliver more law enforcement reports than our peers due to our industry-leading work in keeping people safe,” the spokesperson said.

Social media platforms will face tougher requirements to protect children from harmful content when the Online Safety Bill passed by Parliament on Tuesday becomes law.

End-to-end encryption is a bone of contention between companies and governments in the new law.

Messaging platforms led by WhatsApp have objected to a provision they say could force them to break end-to-end encryption.

However, the government said the bill does not ban the technology but would require companies to take action to stop child abuse and, as a last resort, develop technology to scan encrypted messages.

Tech companies say scanning messages and end-to-end encryption are fundamentally incompatible.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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