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Facebook COO: Undermining Encryption Would Force Terrorists onto Other Platforms

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has again defended her company’s use of end-to-end encryption, implying that forcing tech providers to undermine security would result in terrorists migrating to similar platforms in unregulated countries.

Facebook and its WhatsApp business have come under intense criticism from the UK government, with Prime Minister, Theresa May, arguing for greater internet regulation to “deprive the extremists of their safe spaces online”.

When it comes to end-to-end encryption, the call from an increasing number of governments is for platform providers to allow law enforcers access to such communications, which would effectively involve building a backdoor into services which could undermine security for hundreds of millions of law-abiding customers.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs program, Sandberg implied that police should be glad that Facebook hands over metadata when requested for investigations, arguing that it’s better than nothing.

“The goal for governments is to get as much information as possible, so when there are message services like WhatsApp that are encrypted, the message itself is encrypted but the metadata is not,” she explained.

“If people move off those encrypted services to go to encrypted services in countries that won’t share the metadata, the government actually has less information not more.”

The Investigatory Powers Act actually allows the authorities to force service providers to provide access to end-to-end encryption services, although it’s highly unlikely that the likes of US-based WhatsApp would agree to engineering a backdoor in its service and there’s no way the government could ban its use.

However, Sandberg didn’t rule out the prospect, when asked.

“As technology evolves, these are complicated conversations. We’re in close communication working through the issues all around the world,” she said.

“These are so complicated and there’s so much work to do, but the goal is very clear. Our goal is to make sure not only is there no terrorism on Facebook, no violence, but that we do our part as part of the broader society to work with governments, with NGOs, with counter-speech with people who are going against terrorism.

Facebook has announced several recent initiatives designed to crackdown on terrorists’ use of its platforms, as outlined in this blog post

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