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Electronic Surveillance

Home Office written question – answered on 10th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Taylor of Warwick Lord Taylor of Warwick Non-affiliated

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to ensure that the security services are granted access to encrypted messages in exceptional circumstances.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development)

The UK Government supports strong encryption, which is a vital part of our digital economy, but we have been clear that technology companies should not deliberately design out their ability, and that of law enforcement agencies, to access content, even to prevent and detect the most serious crimes such as child sexual exploitation and abuse and terrorism. As the Director General of MI5, Sir Andrew Parker, made clear last week, lawful access to encrypted communications is a vital part of keeping our citizens safe.

This is not just about one company. It is about protecting the public across the globe as technology develops. However, as we have made very clear, we are extremely concerned about Facebook’s current proposals to apply end-to-end encryption across their messaging services. The US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) estimates that these proposals would result in the loss of 12 million reports related to child abuse every year. The UK National Crime Agency (NCA) estimates that, in 2018, NCMEC reporting from Facebook will have resulted in more than 2500 arrests by UK law enforcement and almost 3000 children safeguarded in the UK.

In order to make progress on this issue, we have been consistently clear that industry must be willing to engage in detailed, technical consultation with governments that can have a genuine impact on their design decisions and that is what the Home Secretary called for from Facebook in an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg on 4 October last year.

We believe that this sort of engagement is necessary in order to identify potential solutions that can keep the public safe, without undermining cyber security or individuals’ privacy. We recently set out our approach to this issue in a testimony to Congress, clearly, factually and in significant detail, dispelling myths that prevent proper debate. We would encourage anyone who is interested in our position to read it in full

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