U.S. Attorney General William Barr wrote an open letter to Facebook asking it to postpone plans to encrypt messages on the company’s three services until the government can assess how it will affect public safety.
CNBC is reporting that the letter was dated Friday (Oct. 4), and that it was backed by government officials in Australia and the U.K.
The letter is an answer to Facebook’s plans to encrypt messages across Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp. The worry is that the encryption will make it easier for criminals to communicate, as well as share child pornography.
“Security enhancements to the virtual world should not make us more vulnerable in the physical world,” the letter said. “Companies should not deliberately design their systems to preclude any form of access to content, even for preventing or investigating the most serious crimes.”
Barr and U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton all signed the letter, asking for Facebook to make it easier for law enforcement to get access to messages that are deemed illegal.
“Risks to public safety from Facebook’s proposals are exacerbated in the context of a single platform that would combine inaccessible messaging services with open profiles, providing unique routes for prospective offenders to identify and groom our children,” the letter said.
Facebook said it was aware of those issues, and that it had been working with child safety experts, governments and tech companies to make sure that the encryption was secure.
“We believe people have the right to have a private conversation online, wherever they are in the world,” Facebook said, adding that it “strongly oppose[s] government attempts to build backdoors because they would undermine the privacy and security of people everywhere.”
Facebook’s integration plans have also raised flags regarding antitrust issues, at a time when the company is being investigated by multiple government agencies.