Is Facebook Already Working On An Encryption Backdoor?

Horst Seehofer, Germany’s federal interior minister, wants to require encryption companies to provide the government with plain text transcripts. One security expert says Facebook is already working on a way to make it happen.

An anonymous reader quotes his remarks in Forbes: The reality is that at its annual conference earlier this month, Facebook previewed all of the necessary infrastructure to make Germany’s vision a reality and even alluded to the very issue of how Facebook’s own business needs present it with the need to be able to covertly access content directly from users’ devices that have been protected through end-to-end encryption…

While it was little noticed at the time, Facebook’s presentation on its work towards moving AI-powered content moderation from its data centers directly onto users’ phones presents a perfect blueprint for Seehofer’s vision. Touting the importance of edge content moderation, Facebook specifically cited the need to be able to scan the unencrypted contents of users’ messages in an end-to-end encrypted environment to prevent them from being able to share content that deviated from Facebook’s acceptable speech guidelines. This would actually allow a government like Germany to proactively prevent unauthorized speech before it is ever uttered, by using court orders to force Facebook to expand its censorship list for German users of its platform.

Even more worryingly, Facebook’s presentation alluded to the company’s need to covertly harvest unencrypted illicit messages from users’ devices without their knowledge and before the content has been encrypted or after it has been decrypted, using the client application itself to access the encrypted-in-transit content. While it stopped short of saying it was actively building such a backdoor, the company noted that when edge content moderation flagged a post in an end-to-end encrypted conversation as a violation, the company needed to be able to access the unencrypted contents to further train its algorithms, which would likely require transmitting an unencrypted copy from the user’s device directly to Facebook without their approval.

Could this be the solution Germany has been searching for?
The article warns that by “sparking the idea of being able to silently harvest those decrypted conversations on the client side, Facebook is inadvertently telegraphing to anti-encryption governments that there are ways to bypass encryption while also bypassing the encryption debate.”