Meta recently said that it would implement end-to-end encryption in Facebook Messenger and Instagram by 2023, despite strong opposition from governments in the UK and elsewhere. However, the UK Home Office is reportedly planning an ad campaign to mobilize public opinion against end-to-end encryption using what critics called "scaremongering" tactics, according to a report from Rolling Stone.
The UK government plans to team up with charities and law enforcement agencies on a public relations blitz created by M&C Saatchi advertising agency, the report states. The aim of the campaign is to relay a message that end-to-end encryption could hamper efforts to curb child exploitation online.
"We have engaged M&C Saatchi to bring together the many organizations who share our concerns about the impact end-to-end encryption would have on our ability to keep children safe," a Home Office spokesperson told Rolling Stone in a statement. The government has allocated £534,000 ($730,500) for the blitz, according to a letter sent from the Home Office in response to a freedom of information request.
The campaign may include elements designed to make the public "uneasy," according to a slideshow designed to help it recruit non-profit coalition partners. That includes a proposed stunt with adult and child actors placed in a glass box as it fades to black. It also involves a "social media activation where we ask parents to write to Mark [Zuckerberg] via their Facebook status."
One slide noted that "most of the public have never heard" of end-to-end encryption, meaning they can "be easily swayed" on the subject. It also states that the government "must not start a privacy vs safety debate."
Privacy advocates called the plans "scaremongering" and said that a lack of end-to-end encryption could have the opposite intended effect. "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," Internet Society's Robin Wilton told Rolling Stone.