Police in the UK will soon be able to read encrypted messages sent by suspected terrorists and paedophiles on social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook, according to the Times.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel is reportedly due to sign an accord between the US and the UK next month that will essentially compel big tech companies into handing over sensitive information on persons of interest to the police, security services and prosecutors.
The Home Secretary and the former chief of counterterrorism at the Metropolitan Police, Richard Walton, argue that social media companies such as Facebook have long enabled terrorism related propaganda and other such potentially dangerous content to go unmoderated on their platforms.
— Steven Swinford (@Steven_Swinford) 28 September 2019
As it stands, police in the UK only have permission to access citizens’ social media messages if there is reason to believe that someones life is in imminent danger. However, the new measures will grant police and prosecutors the right to see private social media data for enquires into persons suspected of endangering the public through acts such as terrorism or paedophilia.
The signing of the treaty comes hot on the heels of the sentencing of Stephen Nicholson for killing 13-year-old Lucy McHugh in Southampton two months ago. At the time, police were critical of Facebook for its reported refusal to hand over messages that had been sent by Mr Nicholson to Lucy.
UK Police were eventually able to access Lucy’s messages through the US courts, but not until the day Mr Nicholson’s trial began, by which time police suspected that Nicholson was able to delete many of the messages. Nicholson was eventually sentenced to a minimum of 33 years in prison.
Mr Walton told the times that, “US tech giants have been inadvertently putting a veil over serious criminality and terrorism.”
“It has tilted the balance in favour of criminals and terrorists. This is welcome, it will make a big difference,” he added.