UK plans dramatic 'publicity attack' against encryption

UK plans dramatic ‘publicity attack’ against encryption


UK steps up fight against encryption
It will use children for dramatic anti-encryption stunts.
Photo: Markus Spiske/Unsplash

The U.K. will spend taxpayer money on a dramatic “publicity attack” against end-to-end encryption, according to a new report. The country apparently hopes to sway public opinion before taking further steps to crack down on the security feature.

A major focus of the campaign will be child safety. M&C Saatchi, the agency hired to run the marketing blitz, reportedly will use child actors to carry out emotive stunts that suggest encryption is being used by predators to conceal their activities.

UK will use kids to fight encryption

The British government has long been making its feeling about end-to-end encryption known. While privacy advocates like Apple see the benefit encryption brings, others don’t like the fact that it makes surveillance more difficult.

The U.K. Home Secretary argues that encryption makes it more difficult to fight organized crime and stop terrorist attacks — claims also made by the U.S. government and other law enforcement agencies around the world.

But that won’t be the focus of Britain’s new advertising campaign. Instead, it will be “entirely focused on the argument that improved encryption would hamper efforts to tackle child exploitation online,” reports Rolling Stone.

Facebook Messenger the target

The campaign has “one key objective,” the report says, which is “mobilizing public opinion against Facebook’s decision to encrypt its Messenger app.”

The “multi-pronged publicity attack” will involve U.K. charities and law enforcement agencies, calls to action for the public to appeal to tech companies, and real-world stunts designed to make people feel “uneasy.”

“One the activities considered as part of the publicity offensive is a striking stunt — placing an adult and child (both actors) in a glass box, with the adult looking ‘knowingly’ at the child as the glass fades to black,” the report says.

And in the words of M&C Saatchi, “In other words, we create a sense of unease by hiding what the child and adult are doing online when their interaction can’t be seen.”


A presentation put together by the ad agency notes that the majority of people have never heard of end-to-end encryption. The campaign hopes to fool them into thinking it’s all bad by only telling one side of the story.

Privacy advocates and those who understand the technology describe the plans as “scaremongering.” It is “as disingenuous as it is dangerous,” Robin Wilton, director of Internet Trust at the Internet Society, told Rolling Stone.

The campaign reportedly will go live in the U.K. within days.

It’s just stupid

If you’ve read any of our coverage on end-to-end encryption in the past, you’ll know that there are also many advantages to it. And it’s not fair to expose everyone’s data because a small few use encryption to hide nefarious activities.

It’s also important to remember that if governments and law enforcement agencies had their way, there would be a backdoor into iPhone (and every other device), allowing everything we do to be monitored.

It also makes no sense to crack down on encryption in one app when users can turn to plenty of other messaging services — like iMessage, WhatsApp and Telegram — if Facebook changes its mind about encrypting Messenger.