The UK government has hired a top ad agency to help it launch a campaign against Meta's plans to introduce end-to-end encryption (E2E) for Messenger on the grounds that it will allegedly help criminals.
Documents reviewed by Rolling Stone show that Home Office boss Priti Patel is planning to criticise Facebook's parent company Meta for the plans, with one idea being that the campaign would place a child actor in a glass box, where an adult actor would stare "knowingly" at them.
“We have engaged M&C Saatchi to bring together the many organisations who share our concerns about the impact end-to-end encryption would have on our ability to keep children safe,” the Home Office said, noting that £534,000 has been allotted for the campaign so far.
Straight out of Brass Eye?
This isn't the first time the UK government – or, indeed, other global governments – have opposed E2E encryption for messaging services and other technological devices. Apple, for example, came under fire in 2016 for refusing to help the FBI crack a suspected terrorist's iPhone.
Meta already offers a totally encrypted product, WhatsApp, but the UK campaign will focus on the forthcoming plans to add Messenger to its E2E encryption ranks.
The company said last November that it will delay the roll out of E2E encryption by default on Messenger and Instagram until 2023.
The unfortunate part of the whole saga is that the plans are basically taken from Brass Eye, the satirical news show from 1997, as many people pointed out on Twitter.
The forthcoming campaign is completely focused on the idea that e2ee aids those who prey on children, a line of attack the government presumably thinks will boost their cause.
Experts, however, disagree. Speaking to Rolling Stone, Internet Trust at the Internet Society director Robin Wilton said: “The Home Office’s scaremongering campaign is as disingenuous as it is dangerous. Without strong encryption, children are more vulnerable online than ever. Encryption protects personal safety and national security … what the government is proposing puts everyone at risk.”
UK govt plans to go full Brass Eye. https://t.co/nHYKLMRb2MJanuary 16, 2022
Like the Brass Eye episode on pedophiles? wtf? https://t.co/eQ3KvCsVKHJanuary 16, 2022
The @ukhomeoffice are funding a "perv-in-a-box" art-installation in order to stoke public hatred of the kind of messenger privacy which they need and use daily — including Boris.This is so "Life Imitates Brass Eye" to beggar belief.#pervinabox https://t.co/cV2vKPE8Jo pic.twitter.com/EJAATshFA6January 16, 2022
The episode, aired in 2001, shows a pedophile being blasted into space, where an unfortunate accident occurs: there was a child onboard. The episode ends with the iconic line, citing a spokesperson: "This is the one thing we didn't want to happen."
A lot of people have rightly pointed out that putting a child in a box to be observed by an adult is both a very strange thing to do and plays into the hands of the predators that the government is trying to combat.
- These are the best encrypted instant messaging apps for Android
Are you a pro? Subscribe to our newsletter
Sign up to the TechRadar Pro newsletter to get all the top news, opinion, features and guidance your business needs to succeed!
Max Slater-Robins has been writing about technology for nearly a decade at various outlets, covering the rise of the technology giants, trends in enterprise and SaaS companies, and much more besides. Originally from Suffolk, he currently lives in London and likes a good night out and walks in the countryside.