James Babbage, Director General for Threats at the National Crime Agency, said:
“It is hugely disappointing that Meta is choosing to roll out end-to-end encryption on Facebook Messenger. They have an important responsibility to keep children safe on their platform and sadly, this will no longer be possible.
“Today our role in protecting children from sexual abuse and exploitation just got harder.
“For years Meta has supported law enforcement by identifying and reporting instances of child sexual abuse to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the US, as they are obliged to do under US law.
“NCA officers and our partners in policing work day in day out to analyse these reports and progress investigations. Together, we are safeguarding 1,200 children and arresting around 800 suspects every single month.
“Unfortunately, this important work is now at risk. As a result of Meta’s design choices, the company will no longer be able to see the offending occurring on their messaging platform, and law enforcement will no longer be able to obtain this evidence from them.
“This problem won’t go away; if anything it will likely get worse. Offenders will still use Facebook Messenger to send illegal material, and will use the vast quantity of data shared on the platform about children to select and groom future victims.
“The alternative safety measures developed by the company relying on metadata alone will rarely, if ever, produce sufficient evidence for a search warrant. This means that in practice, the volumes will be so great that they are likely to be of very little value.
“The onus should not be entirely on children to report abuse.
“The NCA, with our partners in the UK and overseas, will continue to do everything in our power, to safeguard children and identify offenders.”
Notes to editors:
- As outlined in our 2023 National Strategic Assessment, we estimate that here are between 680,000-830,000 adults in the UK that pose some degree of sexual risk to children. This is equivalent to 1.3%-1.6% of the UK adult population.
- When most global companies detect child sexual abuse material on their platforms, they refer it to the U.S-based National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). NCMEC receives millions of reports each year – 32m in 2022. In the UK, NCMEC send reports to the NCA, who process them prior to disseminating valuable leads to Police across the country.
- The provision of content (images, videos, messages, etc) from social media companies to law enforcement via NCMEC provides a direct investigative route to arrest offenders and safeguard children. Each month, industry reports contribute significantly to coordinated action by the NCA and UK policing that leads to over 800 arrests and nearly 1,200 children being safeguarded.
- When acting on these intelligence leads generated from NCMEC, enforcement action was generally only possible because the information received included the actual abuse content that had been detected on online platforms. Where a platform is E2EE, the platform and therefore law enforcement are no longer able to see that content, putting every single referral that we receive from that platform at risk.
- The NCA estimates that if Meta continues to roll out end-to-end encryption as planned, it would result in the loss of the vast majority of reports (92% from Facebook and 85% from Instagram) of detected child abuse that are currently disseminated to UK police each year.
- The NCA is currently chair of a the Virtual Global Taskforce, the international alliance of law enforcement agencies dedicated to the protection of children from online sexual abuse and other transnational child sex offences. The VGT is comprised of 15 law enforcement countries from around the world. Earlier this year, the VGT issued a joint statement warning of the impact of E2EE on international law enforcement’s ability to tackle child sexual abuse: https://nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/who-we-are/publications/646-vgt-end-to-end-encryption-statement-april-2023/file