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Meta's implementation of default end-to-end encryption in Messenger is a win for the LGBTQ+ community

Last month, Meta announced that it would be implementing default end-to-end encryption for all personal chats and calls on Messenger and Facebook. With nearly one billion users, Messenger is a central part of the online lives of many people, and the addition of these strong privacy safeguards to messages and calls as a default feature of the service provides greatly increased security for users. End-to-end encryption prevents any third parties from accessing messages sent between users, including the messaging platform itself. This allows for greatly enhanced privacy protections, and is of particular importance for LGBTQ+ users. Messenger’s particular application of end-to-end encryption is notable for not requiring that message data be stored on user’s devices, as it also offers the option for storage on Meta servers while preserving encryption. Deployment of default end-to-end encryption in Messenger and Facebook is an immensely positive sign for the future of privacy and security for all internet users, particularly those who belong to marginalized and vulnerable communities.

We have previously written about the impact of encryption on our community and its importance in protecting our online security and privacy. It is crucial that LGBTQ+ users feel empowered to use the internet without fear of bigoted reprisal and without compromising their privacy or security, as online resources and communities are often crucial, particularly for those who are unable to find acceptance and community outside of these online platforms. Additionally, encryption can be even more crucial for LGBTQ+ youth, who are often those with the most to lose from a loss of privacy, as they often “continue to manage to whom and in what contexts they are out regarding their sexual orientation or gender identity,” according to the Human Rights Campaign. They do this for good reason, as a majority of LGBTQ+ youth have reported feeling unsafe at school because of their identity, and 3 in 10 reported receiving physical threats. This lack of safety can extend into the home, with nearly half of surveyed LGBTQ+ youth who had come out to their parents reporting that they had been made to feel bad about their identity.

However, end-to-end encryption has recently been under attack by critics who claim that it enables criminal activity and hampers law enforcement. Congress is currently considering the EARN IT Act, which would, among other provisions, place pressure on companies to break end-to-end encryption and scan files, photos and messages. The stated purpose of this Act is to prevent the production and dissemination of child sexual abuse material (CSAM), but the erosion of privacy it demands would impact all users, placing vulnerable communities, including LGBTQ+ people, at great risk.

There is good reason to be skeptical of current legislative efforts to regulate online communications. The EARN IT Act comes alongside the STOP CSAM Act and the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA), both of which are also aimed at protecting children online but carry major repercussions for free expression and the privacy of other users. The ACLU has stated that “The STOP CSAM Act is not a failsafe way to protect kids online, but rather a disaster for the free expression and privacy of all internet users… companies will take extraordinary steps to fundamentally alter the free flow of information and make the internet less free, less private, and less secure.” Such self-imposed restrictions made in response to the law could include the removal of end-to-end encryption. Government efforts meant to protect children but which erode privacy protections will therefore be serving to harm one of the most vulnerable groups they are intended to serve. Lawmakers, advocates, and citizens should keep these considerations in mind when tackling the extremely important issue fo protecting children online.

It is crucial that proposed legislation does not deter more companies from continuing to develop and strengthen tools akin to the end-to-end encryption tools just rolled out for Messenger and Facebook. We hope that Meta’s move towards enhanced security for its users is taken as a challenge for more messaging services to better protect user privacy and encryption efforts during a time when privacy is under such consistent attack.

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