Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has accused Facebook of putting profit ahead of children’s safety by refusing to work with authorities to stop sexual abuse.
Mr Dutton says social media giants, including Facebook, are blocking global law enforcement attempts to combat sexual exploitation of children.
“We know, particularly in Facebook’s case, they are taking deliberate decisions with end-to-end encryption to starve referrals of matters that otherwise in previous years would have been made to law enforcement,” he said on Friday.
“Children have been saved because of those referrals in the past and they won’t be saved in the future because of the actions of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook and others.”
Mr Dutton accused Mr Zuckerberg of rejecting “concerted efforts” by Facebook’s shareholders’ to change the company’s policies on encryption.
“Mr Zuckerberg took a decision not to accept what I thought was a moral imperative for him to do so,” he said.
Mr Dutton said Facebook wouldn’t allow their staff to be abused, “yet their platform facilitates the sexual assault of children at a scale most Australian would find incomprehensible”.
He said it was “unconscionable” that Facebook and other platforms continue to make huge profits while having “an absolute direct knowledge and understanding of the fact that it’s done, in some circumstances, at the expense of children being sexually abused”.
Mr Dutton launched his broadside at the official opening of the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation in Brisbane, where he was joined by Bruce Morcombe, father of murdered Queensland schoolboy Daniel Morcombe.
Mr Morcombe said profiting from child abuse was a shameful act.
“It is a big business and a lot of people are making a lot of money,” he said.
He took aim at social media platforms, saying they were also culpable if they inhibited police who were working to save children by tracking people producing and uploading exploitation material.
“Any tech company that does that you’ve really got to question their motivation. I don’t get it other than they are making money. There is no other reason behind it,” he said.
Sonya Ryan, the mother of murdered South Australian schoolgirl Carly Ryan, said children were being exploited on social media and the companies behind them had a responsibility to act.
“Child exploitation should not exist on their platforms full stop. They should be putting every possible resource to this,” she said.
Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation brings together resources from government, Commonwealth agencies, law-enforcement and non-government organisations in one location to combat the growing scourge of child exploitation.
“Technological advances, such as end-to-end encryption, pose significant challenges for law enforcement,” Mr Dutton said.
“The ACCCE delivers an unprecedented capability not held by any single agency in Australia, allowing for greater innovation and collaboration to combat these heinous crimes.”
From July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020, the ACCCE received more than 21,000 incoming reports of child exploitation – compared to more than 14,000 reports in the 12 months prior – and 134 children were removed from harm.