Barr targets Facebook’s encryption plans

The Trump administration is planning to urge Facebook to hold off on incorporating end-to-end encryption across its various messaging services until the company can address “public safety” issues with law enforcement agencies around the world.

In an open letter that will be published Friday, Attorney General William Barr and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan joined with UK Home Secretary Priti Patel and the Australian Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, in warning Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about what they see as the risks to widespread encryption.

“We must find a way to balance the need to secure data with public safety and the need for law enforcement to access the information they need to safeguard the public, investigate crimes, and prevent future criminal activity,” the letter, first reported by Buzzfeed, reads. “Not doing so hinders our law enforcement agencies’ ability to stop criminals and abusers in their tracks.”

The group argued in the letter that Facebook’s massive platform of public profiles combined with encrypted messaging services could prove useful to criminals like child predators and frustrate law enforcement’s efforts to go after them.

The big picture: The letter is a significant escalation in the administration’s criticism of encryption technologies and threatens to inflame long-simmering public tensions between the government and Silicon Valley, which sees the technology as an essential privacy protection for users.

Facebook’s response: A spokesperson for Facebook said in a statement to The Hill that the company believes “people have the right to have a private conversation online, wherever they are in the world.”

“We respect and support the role law enforcement has in keeping people safe,” the spokesperson said. “Ahead of our plans to bring more security and privacy to our messaging apps, we are consulting closely with child safety experts, governments and technology companies and devoting new teams and sophisticated technology so we can use all the information available to us to help keep people safe.