Facebook change ‘will put child abuse reports at risk’
Thousands of child sex abuse cases will go unreported if Facebook successfully pushes ahead with a plan to strengthen encryption on its messaging service, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has warned.
On the day the social media giant stripped content from the pages of many emergency support services, Mr Dutton launched a scathing attack, saying the "arrogance" of the company was not limited to banning Australian news.
Mr Dutton said according to the National Centre of Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in the US, reporting of child sexual abuse will drop by up to 50 per cent if Facebook proceeds with a plan to make its Messenger app more private.
"Their push for end-to-end encryption will make it easier for paedophiles to share child sexual exploitation material," he said.
More than 90 per cent of referrals to the NCMEC are made by Facebook, which has resulted in over 30,000 reports being made to Australian authorities for investigation.
Facebook announced its move to end-end-encryption in March 2019, a system that will effectively prevent the company from being able to detect harmful content and report it to law enforcement for investigation.
Mr Dutton said the onus was on Facebook to step up and be the corporate citizens "they believe they should be".
"Their platform facilitates the sexual assault of children at a scale that most Australians would find incomprehensible," he said.
"Children have been saved because of those referrals (to law enforcement) in the past and they won't be saved in the future because of the actions of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook and others."
Facebook's push to create end-to-end encryption could see the site become a haven for predators.
Former Queensland law lecturer Gordon Douglas Chalmers is awaiting trial for 202 child sex offences after allegedly using Facebook and Skype to pose as pop singer Justin Bieber and communicate with his young victims.
Chalmers denies the allegations. Chalmers, who was charged in November 2016 and is due to appear in a Brisbane court on October 12, allegedly asked children to send him explicit images using the social media sites as far back as 2007.
The Department of Home Affairs has held five workshops with Facebook over the past six months seeking to address concerns about the potential harm.
In contrast to the snap removal of thousands of posts from Australian news and information pages, Facebook has long abdicated responsibility for the content it hosts.
Administrators of pages, and not the company itself, are considered "publishers" and therefore liable for defamatory comments others may post.
The company's messaging platform has also increasingly been used by organised crime groups, with reports finding drug cartels are "all over" Facebook in Latin America.
Law enforcement agencies in Australia have struggled to keep pace with an increasingly digitised drug market.
Originally published as Facebook change 'will put child abuse reports at risk'