Are children at risk from end-to-end encryption?

Encryption of online messages could make it harder to police child abuse and grooming online.

End-to-end encryption is a privacy feature which enables only those people communicating to read messages sent online. It is intended to prevent data being modified by anyone other than the true sender. The company who runs the messaging platform can't view the messages and they won't be remotely accessible by the police or government when preventing crime, and they can't be seen by hackers, which terrifyingly also means they can't be monitored for dangerous activity meaning police are prevented from gathering evidence to prosecute child abusers.

Former children's commissioner Anne Longfield launched a new report looking at how children use online messaging apps and highlighted that 60% of eight year olds and 90% of twelve year olds are using some sort of messaging platforms, with a third of children observed for the report saying they had received a message that made them feel uncomfortable.

Facebook is at the forefront of these debates after it's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, announced that end-to-end encryption was going to become standard across Facebook messaging apps including Instagram and has argued that privacy online should be available as standard to users. He then went on to contradict himself at a Facebook team meeting by saying the move could harm the fight against child abuse. "You're fighting that battle with at least one hand ted behind your back". Facebook now has a setting which lets you choose to encrypt messages or not.

A spokesman for the Department for Digital said on the matter "Children will be at the heart of our new online harms law with tough sanctions on social media platforms that fail to protect young people from harm. Firms should only implement end-to-end encryption if it can be done without preventing action for children"

It can be difficult to know how to talk to children about safety online. The NSPCC has created a support page which you access here detailing the risks and their advice on keeping your children safe.

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