LGBT Tech has been tracking reports about a letter sent from the United States, United Kingdom, and Australian governments asking Facebook to suspend its plans to continue increasing the end-to-end security across Facebook’s messaging services “until [Facebook] can guarantee the added privacy does not reduce public safety."
LGBT Tech, along with a number of other tech and civil rights organizations, in response, wrote an open letter to Facebook encouraging Facebook to continue with its encryption plans. We believe that each day that platforms do not support strong end-to-end security is another day that this data can be breached, mishandled, or otherwise obtained by powerful entities or rogue actors to exploit it.
While on the surface the arguments in the government letter to Facebook may seem persuasive, just a quick look beneath the surface of such a request reveals a host of privacy concerns that could affect the LGBT community specifically. Law enforcement requests that would require that companies build a “back door” to encryption would create built-in vulnerabilities that could lead to more data theft and blackmail from hackers exploiting these backdoors. These issues are of special concern to the LGBT community for a variety of reasons.
LGBT individuals have always been early adopters of technology, especially social media. A recent study found that more than 80% of LGBT respondents utilized social media, compared to 58% of the general population. There are a variety of reasons for this, but one of the most likely drivers of this adoption is that LGBT individuals are seeking tools that enable them to find a community of like-minded individuals and are trying to connect with others that they can identify with. This could be a teenage girl grappling with her sexuality or an elderly man in rural America hoping to finally be able to share who he truly is with someone. For so many LGBT individuals, the friends they meet and social networks they create online are the first place they feel accepted and, often, normal. For some, it is the only positive reinforcement they receive about their sexuality and the only place they feel safe to share their most personal thoughts. Encryption is an important tool for our community in order to feel safer and more comfortable sharing their personal stories and struggles online.
For these reasons, LGBT Tech remains deeply concerned over the attempts to create back doors that would create vulnerabilities in mobile phones and messaging services that are so crucial to the LGBT community and would create data vulnerabilities that could have uniquely disastrous impacts on LGBT individuals. LGBT Tech will continue to track this issue closely and will weigh in as appropriate with policy makers and politicians to ensure the needs of the LGBT community are considered and addressed.