Europol now latest cops to beg Big Tech to ditch E2EE

Don't bore us, get to the chorus: You need less privacy so we can protect the children

Yet another international cop shop has come out swinging against end-to-end encryption - this time it's Europol which is urging an end to implementation of the tech for fear police investigations will be hampered by protected DMs.

In a joint declaration of European police chiefs published over the weekend, Europol said it needs lawful access to private messages, and said tech companies need to be able to scan them (ostensibly impossible with E2EE implemented) to protect users. Without such access, cops fear they won't be able to prevent "the most heinous of crimes" like terrorism, human trafficking, child sexual abuse material (CSAM), murder, drug smuggling and other crimes.

"Our societies have not previously tolerated spaces that are beyond the reach of law enforcement, where criminals can communicate safely and child abuse can flourish," the declaration said. "They should not now."

The joint statement, which was agreed to in cooperation with the UK's National Crime Agency, isn't exactly making a novel claim. It's nearly the same line of reasoning that the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international law enforcement group founded in 2003 to combat CSAM online, made last year when Meta first first started talking about implementing E2EE on Messenger and Instagram. 

While not named in this latest declaration itself [PDF], Europol said that its opposition to E2EE "comes as end-to-end encryption has started to be rolled out across Meta's messenger platform." The UK NCA made a similar statement in its comments on the Europol missive released over the weekend.

The declaration urges the tech industry not to see user privacy as a binary choice, but rather as something that can be assured without depriving law enforcement of access to private communications. 

"We … call on the technology industry to build in security by design, to ensure they maintain the ability to both identify and report harmful and illegal activities … and to lawfully and exceptionally act on a lawful authority," Europol said.

Thus far, the pleading to Meta hasn't stopped it from beginning the global E2EE rollout that began last year.

Gail Kent, Meta's global policy director for Messenger, said in December the E2EE debate is far more complicated than the child safety issue that law enforcement makes it out to be, and leaving an encryption back door in products for police to take advantage of would only hamper trust in its messaging products. 

Kent said Meta's E2EE implementation prevents client-side scanning of content, which has been one of the biggest complaints from law enforcement. Kent said even that technology would violate user trust, as it serves as a workaround to intrude on user privacy without compromising encryption - an approach Meta is unwilling to take, according to Kent's blog post. 

As was pointed out during previous attempts to undermine E2EE, not only would an encryption back door (client-side scanning or otherwise) provide an inroad for criminals to access secured information, it wouldn't stop criminals from finding some other way to send illicit content without the prying eyes of law enforcement able to take a look. 

Meta hasn't responded to requests for comment on this latest E2EE row, but did tell us in 2023 that it doesn't need to leave a crack in its own encryption to detect illicit material. 

"We don't think people want us reading their private messages, so have developed safety measures that prevent, detect and allow us to take action against this heinous abuse, while maintaining online privacy and security," a Meta spokesperson told us last year. "It's misleading and inaccurate to say that encryption would have prevented us from identifying and reporting accounts … to the authorities."

In other words, don't expect Meta to cave on this one when it can develop a fancy new detection algorithm instead. ®

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