Mainstream apps offering end-to-end encryption could be a thing of the past.

Speaking at the Global Summit to Tackle Online Child Sexual Exploitation in Ethiopa last week, Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, hinted at stricter regulation to limit the privacy-enabling technology.

“We want industry to cooperate with us willingly, but it is clear that many companies have no intent to meet their moral obligations without being forced into it by legislation,” he said.

“We will compel their assistance because we put the protection of children above the greed and arrogance of some CEOs.

“We believe the fundamental right of a child to be safeguarded from sexual harms trumps a paedophile’s ‘right to privacy’.”

Facebook is one of the biggest reporters of child sexual abuse material, according to a New York Times series on the topic, with Messenger accounting for nearly two-thirds of the 18.4 million reports of child sexual abuse material worldwide in 2018.

In October, Dutton co-signed an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg that called for Facebook to cancel its plans for end-to-end encryption across the company’s suite of messaging services.

The minister said he finally received a reply to that letter last week.

“Mr Zuckerberg did not even have the decency to respond, the response was from the Vice Presidents who head up Whatsapp and Messenger who advise that the privacy of their users is paramount to their business,” Dutton said.

“They claim, and I quote, that ‘keeping people safe is one of our biggest priorities at Facebook’.

“Well it is nothing more than public relations spin and frankly to all, an insult.

“Are they forgetting the millions of children who will never be kept safe when end-to-end encryption is adopted as standard practice?”

When Zuckerberg outlined his plans to implement end-to-end encryption across Facebook’s platforms, he said he believed it was “the right thing to do”.

“Messages and calls are some of the most sensitive private conversations people have,” Zuckerberg said.

“And in a world of increasing cyber security threats and heavy-handed government intervention in many countries, people want us to take the extra step to secure their most private data.

“That seems right to me, as long as we take the time to build the appropriate safety systems that stop bad actors as much as we possibly can within the limits of an encrypted service.”

But Dutton said has little faith that Silicon Valley will act appropriately.

“Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook and other tech CEOs have made billions of dollars, but these CEOs are morally bankrupt on the issue of encryption and protecting children,” he said.

“Children, babies and toddlers are being abused and tortured.

“These companies have the ability to shift the dial, but instead behave like the tobacco companies of the 1960’s.

“They know with certainty their actions are causing harm and they pretend it isn’t happening.”\

Charges laid

Last week, the AFP charged 22 people with 56 offences relating to online child exploitation as part of Operation SOUTIEN (French for ‘Support’).

This was the first national joint action between the AFP, the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE), and other state investigators.

Dutton opened the ACCCE last year.

In 2018, the AFP received nearly 18,000 reports of child exploitation – each single report can contain thousands of images or videos.