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UK threatens legal challenge against Facebook’s encryption plans

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WhatsApp logoSource: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central

What you need to know

  • A new report says the UK government has not ordered Facebook to provide 'backdoor access' to encrypted messages on WhatsApp.
  • However, it plans to prevent Facebook from implementing end-to-end encryption on its other services.
  • Facebook could still use a weaker form of encryption for its other services.

The UK government has not ordered Facebook to provide its law enforcement agencies with 'backdoor access' to end-to-end encrypted messages on WhatsApp, according to a new report from Sky News.

While the government could use a legal instrument know as a Technical Capability Notice (TCN) to force the company to provide a backdoor for law enforcement agencies, it decided against the move as "there isn't a reasonable method yet" to bypass the Signal encryption protocol that WhatsApp uses. A former civil servant told Sky News that the second reason was that the UK government isn't sure TCNs will work on American companies.

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According to people familiar with the discussions between the UK government and Facebook, a TCN may be issued to stop the social networking giant from adding the same encryption protocol to its other services. The notice could potentially force Facebook to use a weaker encryption protocol on its other services, which would allow it to monitor users' messages and also provide decrypted conversations to law enforcement agencies.

Responding to concerns that the company's plans of rolling out end-to-end encryption across all its platforms could put children at risk, a Facebook spokesperson said:

Child exploitation and grooming have no place on our platforms. Facebook has led the industry in developing new ways to prevent, detect, and respond to abuse and we will continue to work with law enforcement to combat criminal activity. End-to-end encryption is already the leading technology used by many services to keep people safe and, when we roll it out on our other messaging services, we will build on our strong anti-abuse capabilities at WhatsApp. For example, through a combination of advanced technology and user reports, WhatsApp bans around 250,000 accounts each month suspected of sharing child exploitative imagery.

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