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Home Secretary urges Facebook to reconsider encryption plan after sentencing of serial King's Lynn sex offender

Politicians, police chiefs and charities have urged Facebook to reconsider plans which they fear will make it harder to catch sex offenders operating online.

The plea follows the extended 33 year sentence handed down to Lynn man David Nicholas Wilson at Ipswich Crown Court this afternoon.

Wilson, formerly of Kirstead, Fairstead, used multiple fake profiles, pretending to be teenage girls, on the social networking site to contact his victims.

David Wilson has been described as a 'highly dangerous' individual by the National Crime Agency (43238149)
David Wilson has been described as a 'highly dangerous' individual by the National Crime Agency (43238149)

But the National Crime Agency (NCA), which investigated his crimes, fear that the company's plans to introduce end-to-end encryption on its messenger service would mean they and it would not be able to catch similar offenders in the future.

And the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has today led calls for Facebook to think again.

She said: “The tireless efforts of the NCA have put a truly awful criminal behind bars, providing justice to those who suffered as well as protecting hundreds of potential victims.

Home Secretary Priti Patel. Picture: Home Office (43629370)
Home Secretary Priti Patel. Picture: Home Office (43629370)

“This sickening case is a chilling reminder of how crucial it is that tech companies play their part in combating child sexual abuse.

“It is vital that Facebook do not press ahead without amending their current end-to-end-encryption plans, otherwise sick criminals like David Wilson could still be abusing children with impunity.”

North West Norfolk MP James Wild said: “This sentence reflects the truly appalling crimes committed against so many children and I pay tribute to all those involved in this harrowing investigation who helped secure this conviction.

"Today his victims know that he will be spending a long time behind bars.”

“However, I am very concerned at the warning from the National Crime Agency that proposed changes to encryption may stop them catching similar offenders in the future.

"Tech companies have a duty to protect their users and now is the time to act responsibly and think again.”

The NSPCC has also urged the government to act if Facebook won't.

Andy Burrows, the charity's head of child safety online policy, said: “The Government must bring forward a comprehensive Online Safety Bill that ensures platforms face consequences if they press ahead with poor design choices that put children risk of entirely avoidable harm.”

Norfolk Police chief constable Simon Bailey, who is the national policing lead for child protection, said he was so concerned by Facebook's proposals because it was information from that platform which had helped to bring Wilson to justice.

He said: “Social media tip offs last year helped policing and the NCA arrest over 4,500 child sex offenders and safeguard 6,000 children in the UK. This clearly shows that quick access to the technology that criminals are using to target and groom children online is absolutely vital.

"Not only can this evidence help secure prosecutions but it can also identify victims so police can bring an end to their exploitation.”

A Facebook spokesman said: “Child exploitation and grooming have no place on our platforms. Facebook has led the industry in developing new ways to prevent, detect, and respond to abuse and we will continue to work with law enforcement to combat criminal activity.

"End-to-end encryption is already the leading technology used by many services to keep people safe online and, when we roll it out on our other messaging services, we will build on our strong anti-abuse capabilities at WhatsApp.

"For example, through a combination of advanced technology and user reports, WhatsApp bans around 250,000 accounts each month suspected of sharing child exploitative imagery.”

But Rob Jones, the NCA's Director of Threat Leadership, said Facebook's proposals were a "disaster."

He added: “Their plans will create a haven for child sex offenders to congregate to target children. It’s not too late for Facebook to change their mind.”

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