Facebook ‘one-stop grooming shop’ warning as Herts and Beds online sex offences revealed

Plans to offer end-to-end encyption to Facebook and Instagram will give paedophiles a place to hide,

Plans to offer end-to-end encyption to Facebook and Instagram will give paedophiles a place to hide, the NSPCC warns. Picture: Pexels - Credit: Archant

Facebook and Instagram could become a “one-stop grooming shop” for paedophiles if encryption plans go ahead, child protection charity the NSPCC has warned.

Police in England and Wales recorded more than 4,000 instances in 2018/19 where Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp were used in child abuse image and online child sex offences - an average of 11 times a day.

And the abuse is happening on our own doorstep, with Hertfordshire police recording 40 instances and Bedfordshire 83.

The NSPCC says online child sex crimes could go undetected if Facebook introduces end-to-end encryption to Facebook and Instagram as planned.

End-to-end encryption means only you and the person you are sending the message to can see the content, whereas when you send a normal text message the phone company stores it on their platform and can also see it.

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Facebook would no longer be able to see and report illegal content to law enforcement, and police will be left working in the dark to detect child abuse crimes, the NSPCC has warned.

Andy Burrows, NSPCC's head of child safety online policy, said: "Instead of working to protect children and make the online world they live in safer, Facebook is actively choosing to give offenders a place to hide in the shadows and risks making itself a one-stop grooming shop.

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"For far too long Facebook's mantra has been to move fast and break things, but thousands of child sex crimes could go undetected if they push ahead with their plans unchecked.

"If Facebook fails to guarantee encryption won't be detrimental to children's safety, the next government must make clear they will face tough consequences from day one for breaching their duty of care."

The NSPCC is calling for no end-to-end encryption for messages going to or coming from children's accounts on Facebook apps, and that adults' accounts not be encrypted unless Facebook has solutions to ensure child abuse can be detected and child safety won't be compromised.

The NSPCC is also calling for the next government to introduce an independent duty of care regulator to keep children safe online.

To sign an open letter to Facebook, visit nspcc.org.uk/what-we-do/news-opinion/facebook-encryption-sexual-abuse

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