Protection or Privacy: The Battle for a Balance

A midsection of businessman standing in an office, using smartphone.
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By Julianna Guthrie

Mark Zuckerberg has found himself, once again, at odds with the federal government. In a post released by Zuckerberg in March 2019, he reps a new “privacy-first” approach. This approach would introduce a new end-to-end encryption of private messaging on his participating platforms.This privacy-first project has left not only United States government officials skeptical, but has caught the eye of criminal authorities in the U.K. and Australia.

Zuckerberg seeks to standardize end-to-end encryption across all of his platforms. This new service will guarantee that messages will stay between the sender and receiver and inaccessible to outside parties.

These new measures can be seen as an effort being made by Facebook to regain public trust, as it has found itself under fire in recent years due to numerous breaches and compromised security. It was discovered that, ahead of the 2016 election, the British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had accessed 87 million users’ information. On top of this, in the fall of 2018, over 50 million user accounts were breached and their information was compromised by hackers.

The fight between security and privacy came into the spotlight after the 2015 San Bernardino shooting, when Apple went to court with the FBI in order to protect the shooter’s telephone. The FBI called for measures to be taken in order to remove the passcode and access the information. Apple fought back saying that if they breached the user’s privacy once, it would happen again, compromising the safety of all phones, according to Time Magazine.

Key officials of the three allied nations went as far as addressing a letter to Zuckerberg outlining the implications if this more secure encryption was put forth. A draft on October 6, obtained by BuzzFeed News, accused Zuckerbergs’ efforts as putting worldwide security at risk.

“Companies should not deliberately design their systems to preclude any form of access to content, even for preventing or investigating the most serious crimes,” the draft reads. 

The specific crime at the forefront of officials minds: child exploitation. According to a Politico Article, authorities believe that if Facebook ups its security more children will be put at risk and there will be little to help them.

In addition, authorities are troubled that these new proposed encryption services will interfere with any ongoing and future investigations they will conduct. They lament that they already struggle to receive information they ask for when needed even though Facebook claims that it has always been and will continue to be compliant in government investigations.

Facebook has recognized that if they increase security measures that it is possible that these platforms will become more vulnerable to illegal activity. They have assured the people however that they are taking any and all actions to identify and target predators on their participating and sites and take them off these platforms.

Officials are in agreement that Facebook has taken great lengths to track down these digital threats. In the same letter obtained by Buzzfeed News, officials highlight positive statistics that demonstrate the ways that Facebook is tackling and reporting these child predators.

“In 2018, Facebook made 16.8 million reports to the US National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) – more than 90% of the 18.4 million total reports that year,” according to the draft. “As well as child abuse imagery, these referrals include more than 8,000 reports related to attempts by offenders to meet children online and groom or entice them into sharing indecent imagery or meeting in real life.”

They add that, if Facebook continues with their plan, over 70% of their current reporting will no longer be possible.

In an effort to compromise, officers have proposed a solution to the question of providing more privacy, according to the Times Magazine article. Officials are looking to create a system with Facebook to keep access to any relevant material for investigative purposes. Security experts discourage this method saying that if the system is made to be vulnerable for one party, their secure information will become compromisable.

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