UK Child Welfare Charity Latest To Claim Encryption Does Nothing But Protect Criminals

from the recoil-in-terror-as-mustachioed-Mr.-Encryption-ties-another-child-to-the-train-t dept

Once again, it’s time to end encryption… for the children. That’s the message being put out by the UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). And that message is largely regurgitated word-for-word by Sky News:

In what it is calling the “biggest threat to children online”, the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) says safeguards need to be introduced so police can access the data if needed.

“The proposals to extend end-to-end encryption on messaging platforms mean they are essentially putting a blindfold on itself” says Andy Burrows, head of the NSPCC’s child safety online policy.

“No longer will the social network be able to identify child abuse images that are being shared on its site, or grooming that’s taking place on its site.

“Because abusers know they will be able to operate with impunity, therefore it means that not only will current levels of abuse go largely undetected, but it’s highly likely that we’ll see more child abuse.”

Is it the “biggest threat?” That doesn’t seem likely, especially when others who are concerned about the welfare of children say encryption is actually good for kids.

Here’s ConnectSafely, a nonprofit headed by Larry Magid, who is on the board National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which operates a clearinghouse for child porn images that helps law enforcement track down violators and rescue exploited children:

Some worry that encryption will make it harder for law enforcement to keep us safe, but I worry that a lack of encryption will make it harder for everyone, including children, to stay safe.

Phones and other digital devices can contain a great deal of personal information, including your current and previous locations, home address, your contacts, records of your calls and your texts, email messages and web searches. Such information, in the hands of a criminal, can not only lead to a violation of you or your child’s privacy, but safety as well. That’s why it’s important to have a strong passcode on your phone as well as a strong password on any cloud backup services… But even devices with strong passwords aren’t necessarily hacker proof, which is why it’s important that they be encrypted.

And here’s UNICEF, which has long been involved with protecting children around the world:

There is no equivocating that child sexual abuse can and is facilitated by the internet and that endto-end encryption of digital communication platforms appears to have significant drawbacks for the global effort to end the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. This includes making it more difficult to identify, investigate and prosecute such offences. Children have a right to be protected from sexual abuse and exploitation wherever it occurs, including online, and states have a duty to take steps to ensure effective protection and an effective response, including support to recover and justice.

At the same time, end-to-end encryption by default on Facebook Messenger and other digital communication platforms means that every single person, whether child or adult, will be provided with a technological shield against violations of their right to privacy and freedom of expression.

Despite this being far more nuanced than the NSPCC is willing to admit, it’s helping push legislation in the UK which would result in less child safety, rather than more. The Online Safety Bill would place burdens on communication services to prove they’re making every effort to prevent child exploitation. And “everything” means stripping all users of end-to-end encryption because this protective measure means no one but the sender and receiver can see their communications.

The bill would make tech companies responsible for “failing” to police child porn — with “failure” determined by “aggravating factors” like, you guessed it, offering end-to-end encrypted communications.

The following questions will help ascertain key risk aggravating factors (this is not an exhaustive list). Do your services:

  • allow users to create, share, promote, repost or share sentiment on any type of content?

  • offer private messaging spaces (both in access-controlled groups and as 1-to-1 messages)?

  • offer ephemeral, encrypted or self-deleting content?

  • use end-to-end encryption to place user content out of reach of provider moderation systems?

  • offer features that enable exchange of rich media including video (stored and livestreamed), audio, images, link sharing (including via URL shortening services), virtual reality, location sharing and contact details on other platforms or services?

  • offer user profiles that facilitate adults finding and contacting children and that may enable real-world identification of vulnerable people, including children?

This legislation — and the cheerleading from entities like the NSPCC — doesn’t really do anything but turn tech companies into handy villains that are far easier (and far more lucrative) to punish. There’s not going to be an influx of child porn just because communications are now encrypted. As critics of encryption have pointed out again and again, Facebook reports thousands of illegal images a year. So, a lack of encryption wasn’t preventing the distribution of illicit images. Adding encryption to the mix is unlikely to change anything but how much is reported by Facebook.

We all use encryption. (I mean, hopefully.) Having access to encrypted communications hasn’t nudged most people into engaging in criminal activity. That the same tech that protects innocent people is utilized by criminals doesn’t make the tech inherently evil. It’s the people that are evil.

As for law enforcement, it will still have plenty of options. Plenty of images will still be detected because lots of people are lazy or ignorant and use whatever’s convenient, rather than what’s actually secure. Encryption won’t exponentially increase the amount of illicit content circulating the internet. If the FBI (and others) can successfully seize and operate dark web child porn sites, it’s safe to say law enforcement will still find ways to arrest suspects and rescue children, even if encryption may make it slightly more difficult to do so.

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Comments on “UK Child Welfare Charity Latest To Claim Encryption Does Nothing But Protect Criminals”

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25 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Having access to encrypted communications hasn’t nudged most people into engaging in criminal activity.

As some people say: "Every accusation a confession".

I am going to assume that NSPCC (and the slew of other people screaming ‘for the children’) are actually confessing to the things have/intended to do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Anyone aruging "think of the children" / "for the children" should be imediately discredited and ignored in any and all debates. Far too often such statements are used, in place of facts and evdience to support their claim, by swindlers seeking personal benifit or satisfaction to the deterement of the public. Kick them to the curb until they can argue and debate in good faith.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Non-tooth murdering cake

Delicious, substantially nutritious non-tooth murdering cake maybe, or better yet a nutrition program that teaches kids and parents not to snack on sometimes foods (for starters).

Part of the problem is how much of our food industries focus on the delicious part with no regard for actual substance, which is why I can’t be trusted near peanut-butter M&Ms.

Anonymous Coward says:

it seems wrong to attack encryption just because some minority of users might use it to
commit crimes or communicate with children ,
eg most people do not use facebook to commit crime.
In other words all adult users give up the right to privacy because a tiny minority commit crimes using the service.
crimes are commited using ordinary cell phones or landlines too.
most people do not use cars to rob banks.
maybe there should be an age for social media ,
eg you should not be able to open an instragram or facebook account unless you are 17 years old at least.
All social media companys already have a legal obligation to report illegal images
or messages in regard to adults communicating with children

Many people have been arrested for the capital riots in january and much of the evidence used against them is the posts and images they posted on
on facebook or parler
there wasd no need to break encryption in order to get acess to this data.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"it seems wrong to attack encryption just because some minority of users might use it to commit crimes or communicate with children"

The real-world analogy of what is claimed about encryption here would be an irate statement by the authorities that the ability to lock your door or whisper only protects criminals.

That’s why the war on encryption is really just authoritarians trying to re-do the battle which was fought back when we got rid of Divine Right and Guilty Until Proven Innocent.

Yes, bad people do use the same tools everyone else does. They travel down roads, use cars and electricity…and like everyone else they protect their privacy by locking their door and keeping their communication confidential.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

it’s safe to say law enforcement will still find ways to arrest suspects and rescue children

Given current child pornography laws and sexting, I’d say they are likely to go for the "two-fer". What, they then have to register on a sex-offender registry for the rest of their lives? They should have known all the consequences of their actions! Even the ones we enact after the fact!

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

That'll show them... 'everyone' to be precise

‘Problem’: Curtains prevent police from peeking into children’s bedrooms, keeping them from being able to see if they’re being abused(should they happen to look at exactly the right time).

‘Solution’: Make curtains illegal so that everyone can look into children’s bedrooms(and bedrooms of adults, doctor’s offices, bank offices…), at any time, whether police or other.

Yup, that’ll certainly protect children, stripping away any privacy and protection of their personal information.

Anonymous Coward says:

NSPCC website shows – Our CEO, Peter Wanless, earnt £173,000 in 2019/20

Basically HE and his cronies won’t take a paycut to help children, but we’re expected to donate to them.

£173k is to "attract" the best talent apparently…which is defined as the greediest asshole we could get. Why can’t he get by on £50k and give the remainder back to the charity?

what a selfish prick of a situation

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If copyright has taught me anything it’s that being a middleman is profitable.

Realistically, the best place for money to go is the police, because Lord knows they don’t get nearly enough support to combat child abuse cases – but that’s not where the money is, the money goes to copyright enforcement or whatever lobbyists are asking for. You’re not helping children with your donation – you’re helping the middleman, and everyone dangling on his coattails for a paycheck.

Jono793 (profile) says:

I’m from the UK. The NSPCC was(and to an extent still is) a worthy charity, that helps exploited children.

But these days, it’s sounding more and more like the Paedofinder General. Railing against E2E encryption with no actual evidence, other than "concerns".

I rely on an E2E platform in order to share photos of my children, securely, with my extended family. Especially important when we’re under lockdown and not legally allowed to meet face to face?

What does the NSPCC have to say about me? Should I send those photos via unsecured services where they’re at increased risk of being stolen by hackers and paedofiles? Should I post them publicly to Facebook where they can be taken by anyone?(and I become that annoying ‘Facebook dad’ everyone hates?) Or should my parents just not experience their grandkids growing up?

According to them, that’s not for me to decide!

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