Facebook on Thursday pushed back against Attorney General William Barr’s request that the company not encrypt more of its messaging apps. The demand, first reported by BuzzFeed News, came in a letter from Barr and and officials from the United Kingdom and Australia dated for October 4.
The letter asks Facebook to abandon its plan to put end-to-end encryption in place across its products unless it can guarantee there will be “no reduction to user safety” and “a means for lawful access to the content of communications to protect our citizens” will be included.
The attorney general, currently entangled in the impeachment threat surrounding President Donald Trump, argues that encryption would hinder criminal investigations and requested that Facebook allow law enforcement backdoor access into encrypted messaging.
Facebook indicated it would not acquiesce to the demands.
“We strongly oppose government attempts to build backdoors because they would undermine the privacy and security of people everywhere,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “We believe people have the right to have a private conversation online, wherever they are in the world.”
End-to-end encryption, widely regarded as the gold standard for secure communications, prevents any outside parties from viewing a message by scrambling its contents until it reaches its intended recipient. WhatsApp messages are currently encrypted, encompassing more than 1.5 billion users.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in March that Facebook would be improving the privacy of its apps, including instituting end-to-end encryption on its messaging products beyond WhatsApp. As he made the announcement during the company’s annual developer conference, the Facebook founder stood in front of a giant graphic that read, “The future is private.”
Facebook has weathered a number of scandals related to its approach to protecting consumers’ personal information, though the social network still gets points among privacy advocates for expanding mainstream access to end-to-end encryption through WhatsApp.
Privacy advocates believe that encrypted messaging is a strong privacy plus for consumers, while detractors—usually within law enforcement—think the risks involved when a company can no longer monitor content on its platform outweigh any potential benefit.
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.