Senior officials from the US, UK and Australia have written an open letter to the Facebook chief as they announce a new treaty.
Mark Zuckerberg has been warned that Facebook’s new privacy proposals could help child abusers evade detection, with an estimated 12 million suspected incidents going unflagged.
In March the chief executive promised that Facebook would implement end-to-end encryption across all of its messaging services, a design which would mean nobody other than the sender and the recipient of a message would be able to read its contents.
It comes as the UK and the US signed a “landmark” data access agreement – the first of its kind – to tackle terrorists, child sexual abusers and other serious criminals, the Home Office said.
The reciprocal arrangement means law enforcement bodies could demand a criminals’ electronic data directly from technology companies based in either country.
Home Secretary Priti Patel and US Attorney General William Barr are among the senior figures reopening the divisive debate within the technology industry about governments’ access to communications.
They have written an open letter requesting that Facebook includes “a means for lawful access to the content of communications” for law enforcement – a proposal which has historically been criticised as a “back door” which would undermine the protections applied to users’ messages.
The governments argue that the description of the access mechanism that they want as a “back door” is misleading, but stress that so-called “warrant-proof” encryption would have a critical impact on child protection.