A new agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom will compel social media companies based in the U.S. to cooperate with the British police force during investigations by allowing them to have access to user messages. The affected firms would most likely be Facebook and its subsidiary messaging app, WhatsApp.
The deal, which is expected to be inked within the next month, will force American social media platforms like Facebook to assist police investigations by sharing information to British law enforcement. The social media firms will have to allow law enforcement agencies to read the conversations and messages sent through their platform by suspected heinous criminals like terrorists and pedophiles, people familiar with the agreement revealed.
Previously, U.K.’s home secretary Priti Patel expressed her opposition to Facebook’s plan to enable users to send end-to-end encrypted messages. Patel argues that end-to-end encrypted messages will only benefit criminals and will make it harder for the police to conduct their investigations. She also called for social media giants to develop “back doors” that could allow investigators and law enforcement officers to gain access to the messages of their users if necessary.
As expected, Facebook slammed the agreement citing that it violates the privacy of its users that the company has vowed to protect. “We oppose government attempts to build backdoors because they would undermine the privacy and security of our users everywhere,” Facebook said in a statement. “Government policies like the Cloud Act allow companies to provide available information when we receive valid legal requests and do not require companies to build back doors.”
Privacy has since been a sensitive issue for Silicon Valley firms. Many of them, especially Facebook, has been in hot water for their inability to guarantee the security of their users’ data and their lackluster job in protecting user privacy.
Facebook has recently been the center of media attention after their involvement in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which has compromised the data of millions of Facebook users in the United States. Cambridge Analytica, a London-based firm, has scraped user data from Facebook in order to analyze them and use them to manipulate public opinion during the 2016 election. The problematic campaign run by CA has successfully interfered with the results of the said elections and is one of the factors attributed to the win of President Donald Trump.
Furthermore, several data breaches have plagued Facebook in the past few years. Earlier in 2019, Facebook confirmed that they were saving a huge number of their users’ passwords in a human-readable format, and their employees have access to them. Because of a series of privacy violations, the Federal Trade Commission has signed a settlement agreement to fine the tech giant with record-breaking penalties.
This is not the first that governments and law enforcement agencies have been pressuring tech companies to cooperate in criminal investigations. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has had a long-standing legal battle against Apple for the tech giant’s refusal to assist the law enforcement agency in hacking an iPhone of a suspected drug dealer.
After a long court battle, the FBI withdrew its complaint after they have found a third-party expert who did the job for them. It was reported during that time that the expert was paid hefty amounts of money for unlocking the suspects’ phone. Law enforcement agencies have since been investing huge amounts of money for technologies that could allow them to unlock a locked phone, both Android and iOS devices.
Meanwhile, the deal between the United States and the United Kingdom also contains other investigation-related clauses. Bloomberg reports that the deal stipulates that both countries agree not to investigate each other’s citizens. Also, the deal will also see to it that the United States cannot use the intelligence they gathered from U.K. firms in cases that could potentially levy the death penalty.