Sheriff: Facebook’s proposed encryption could hinder law enforcement investigations

Sheriff: Facebook’s proposed encryption could hinder law enforcement investigations
Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon joined other law enforcement leaders at the Department of Justice in Washington in opposing proposed "end-to-end" encryption Facebook has said it will roll out on its messenger service. (Source: Live 5)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon joined other law enforcement leaders at a national summit in Washington DC focused on opposing a proposed encryption plan Facebook is considering for its Messenger service.

The summit, held at the Department of Justice, discussed Facebook’s proposal to implement “end-to-end encryption” of its services, a move the social media giant says will prioritize privacy for billions of users.

But law enforcement leaders say that encryption would potentially block court-ordered law enforcement access for all investigations.

“Social media is a vital investigative tool for almost all crimes, including property thefts, child sexual exploitation, homicides and terrorism,” Charleston County Sheriff’s Capt. Roger Antonio said. “Sheriff Cannon states that this move ‘will severely hinder the already difficult task that law enforcement has of apprehending terrorists and predators.’”

The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office is an active participant of the SC Attorney General’s Internet Crimes Against Children task-force, Antonio said. In the last half of 2018, Antonio said the sheriff’s office investigated 60 ICAC cases and performed more than 500 ICAC forensic computer examinations for suspected child pornography.

“Sheriff Cannon is concerned that, despite the growing concern and efforts of cybersecurity teams at all levels of public safety, the full encryption of social media accounts would dismantle great strides already made by partnerships such as ICAC,” Antonio said. “The Sheriff further said that this block would ‘be detrimental to our ability to protect our children and identify predators and even those that have been victimized in pornographic images.’”

U.S. Attorney General William Barr and other U.S., U.K. and Australian officials have been pressing Facebook to give authorities a way to read encrypted messages sent by ordinary users, re-igniting tensions between tech companies and law enforcement.

Facebook’s WhatsApp already uses so-called end-to-end encryption, which locks up messages so that even Facebook can’t read their contents. Facebook plans to extend that protection to Messenger and Instagram Direct.

Facebook said earlier this month that people have the right to have private conversations online and that companies are already able to respond to government agencies when they receive valid legal requests.

"We strongly oppose government attempts to build backdoors because they would undermine the privacy and security of people everywhere,” Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne said in a statement on Oct. 3.

The Justice Department calls the growing use of end-to-end encrypted communications the “going dark” problem, referencing the way encryption shields information that law enforcement could previously access easily.

In announcing plans in March to expand encryption, Zuckerberg acknowledged that the privacy protection it affords extends to “the privacy of people doing bad things.” He said Facebook was working on better ways to detect patterns of bad behavior, without seeing contents of messages.

Copyright 2019 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.