Facebook executives told U.S. Attorney General William Barr that the company would not provide law enforcement with investigative access to its encrypted messaging products until Tuesday’s Senate hearing on encryption,media outlet The Verge reported.
In a letter, WhatsApp and Messenger’s heads, Will Cathcart and Stan Chudnovsky, respectively, said bad actors could use any “backdoor” to access Facebook’s products for law enforcement purposes for malicious purposes. As a result, Facebook rejected Barr’s request to make its products easier to use.
“Your request for ‘backdoor’ access from law enforcement would be a gift to criminals, hackers, and repressive regimes, providing them with a way to access the system and making everyone on our platform more vulnerable to real-life harm,” the Facebook executive wrote. “People’s private information will be less secure, and the real winner will be anyone who tries to take advantage of this weakened security.” That’s not what we’re going to do. “
Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, announced that the company would aggressively develop an end-to-end encrypted messaging service. The underlying infrastructure of its three messaging offerings (Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger) will be bundled together and become more private.
In October, the Justice Department sparred with Facebook over the privacy statement, suggesting that the company’s plans would benefit criminals, mainly sex traffickers and paedophiles. “Companies should not deliberately design their systems to prevent any form of access to content, even to prevent or investigate the most serious crimes,” Mr Barr said. “
Facebook’s letter Tuesday was sent in response to Barr’s October inquiry and comes ahead of a Senate Judiciary hearing on encryption. Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Apple and Facebook representatives that he appreciated the fact that “people can’t hack into my phone” but that encrypted devices and messaging provide a “safe haven” for criminals and child exploitation.
At the hearing, Jay Sullivan, Facebook’s director of messaging privacy, told senators that the company believes it is “critical that U.S. companies are ahead of the curve in security and encrypted messaging” because if not, foreign companies will offer the same services. If so, Sullivan suggests, the companies will be out of reach and may not cooperate with U.S. law enforcement officials. Facebook and other big technology companies have repeatedly made similar statements about foreign governments in response to broader regulatory threats related to data privacy and content censorship.