Sandberg: Encryption ban would impede UK gov investigations

Facebook COO says alternative encryption providers would be out of reach of government

Graphic showing a digital padlock overlaid above information that has been encrypted

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has said proposals for social messaging apps to ditch end-to-end encryption would make it more difficult, not easier, for governments to monitor for terrorist activity.

Following the terrorist attacks on London Bridge and Borough Market this year, Prime Minister Theresa May and other political figures have called for social networks to clamp down on extremist activity and claimed end-to-end encryption provides a "safe place" for terrorists on the platforms.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs on Sunday, Sandberg said argued removing encryption technology would only encourage users to adopt similar protections from providers beyond the reach of UK government.

"The goal for governments is to get as much information as possible, and so when there are message services like WhatsApp that are encrypted the message itself is encrypted but the metadata is not," explained Sandberg. "Meaning that when you send me a message we don't know what that message says but we know that you contacted me."

"If people move off those encrypted services and go to encrypted services in countries that won't share the metadata, the government actually has less information, not more," said Sandberg.

Instead, government should allow social networks to work together to solve the issue, argues Sandberg, who reiterated Facebook's commitment to combating extremism on its platform, while retaining the right of privacy for its users.

As an immediate measure, Facebook announced last month its Online Civil Courage Initiative (OCI), which will give anti-terror groups free advertising to spread messages to those at risk of radicalisation.

"Our Facebook policies are very clear," said Sandberg. "There is absolutely no place for terrorism, hate or calls for violence of any kind. Our goal is to not just pull it off Facebook but to use artificial intelligence technology to get it before it is even uploaded."

Sandberg added that Facebook is working alongside other companies to develop flagging technology for uploaded content, so that "if a video is uploaded to any of our platforms we are able to fingerprint it for all the others, so they can't move from platform to platform."

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