FACEBOOK has come under fire from a coalition of child protection organisations which demand CEO Mark Zuckerberg not to “blindfold” himself to child sex abuse on its products.

A letter signed by 129 international organisations said Facebook’s plans to encrypt messages risks more serious and sustained sexual abuse on its platforms.

Facebook has faced pressure from a number of privacy rights groups to enhance security and encryption in its services however, these calls have sparked fears for child safety. In the first-ever joint action of its kind, experts from 102 countries signed the letter to Zuckerberg asking him not to proceed with encryption plans until he can guarantee children’s safety won’t be compromised.

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The letter, coordinated by the NSPCC, includes signatories from the UK, Australia, India and the USA and says any encryption plan should not jeopardise children’s safety. It warns that encryption would damage Facebook’s ability to identify and disrupt grooming behaviour on its platforms and allow abusers to target children behind closed doors. In 2018 Facebook made 16.8 million reports to the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) which the NCA estimates led to 3000 children being safeguarded in the UK alone.

NCMEC estimates that end-to-end encryption could mean 70% of reports being lost – 12 million a year. The NSPCC claims this risks Facebook becoming a one-stop grooming shop and Zuckerberg himself admitted that his plans would protect the “privacy of people doing bad things”.

The letter says Facebook failed to address the concerns raised by child protection organisations about encryption.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: “Facebook may be happy to shut their eyes to abuse but they can’t close their ears to this unanimous concern shown by international experts. Mark Zuckerberg has a choice whether to allow sexual abuse to soar on his sites or listen to those from all over the world asking him to rethink how to implement encryption without putting children at risk.

“In its current form, encryption would breach Facebook’s duty of care for children so the UK Government must ensure a new regulator has the power to hold them financially and criminally accountable.”