Facebook is putting profit before child safety with its plans to introduce end-to-end encryption, says the police chief in charge of fighting child abuse.
Simon Bailey, the chief constable who leads for the National Police Chiefs’ Council on child protection, will say on Wednesday that the encryption plans will "turn the lights off" for investigators seeking to expose child abusers online.
He will say it means offenders will be free to upload, share and view indecent images in the knowledge that police and other law enforcement agencies will struggle to detect them because of encryption.
"Unfortunately, the technology industry continues to put profit before safeguarding children," he will tell a policing conference at Anglia Ruskin University to mark his retirement as Norfolk’s chief constable.
"Facebook is already the most-used platform for the sharing of indecent images and yet they are planning to wilfully blind themselves by introducing end-to-end encryption across their services.
"This will simply turn the lights off on our ability to effectively monitor this activity. It is open to Facebook to change those plans."
Mr Bailey will tell his audience that the Government has produced an Online Safety White Paper, and a full Government response to the consultation, which would see Ofcom given powers to fine companies for hosting this material.
"But if nobody can see what is being uploaded, this won’t stop the offending," he will say. "Social media companies have the ability to make the uploading, viewing and sharing of indecent images so much harder, but they choose not to invest in the technology to eradicate it.
"In fact by applying end-to-end encryption irresponsibly they are making it easier.
“The technology is there to stop people uploading these images, but they continue to put profit over safeguarding children."
Mr Bailey will say the current scale of offending was an "epidemic", pointing to 20 million unique images of child sexual abuse now securely stored on the Police’s Child Abuse Image Database.
He will also point out that this figure is increasing at a rate of approximately 250,000 every month, while the National Crime Agency estimates there are between 500,000 and 850,000 people in the UK who pose a threat to children.
"During the last seven years the UK has become far better at targeting offenders and investigating all forms of sexual abuse, we are world leading targeting online abuse, but despite this response, the number of victims and offenders is increasing," he will say.
"Nine years ago the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre were responsible for coordinating 192 arrests in a year, police working in partnership with the National Crime Agency are now dealing with 850 offenders a month.
"Our partnership has seen us safeguarding tens of thousands of young people, but the volume of offences continues to grow, the depravity is getting worse, and the victims are getting younger."
A Facebook spokesman said: "People prefer end-to-end encrypted messaging on various apps because it keeps their messages safe from hackers, criminals, and foreign interference.
"Facebook has led the industry in developing new ways to prevent, detect, and respond to abuse while maintaining high security and we will continue to do so."