On Wednesday, the European Union revealed new proposals which would require online platforms to more effectively screen and eliminate child abuse online.
This legislation would allow countries in the EU to tell courts to order companies like Meta and Apple to implement systems which can detect and remove child sexual abuse content on their platforms.
To enforce these measures, an EU Centre on Child Sexual Abuse will be established and will maintain a database of ‘digital indicators’ of child sexual abuse. Those indicators would then be matched against material on online services.
‘We are failing to protect children today,’ said Ylva Johansson, the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs. She referred to the proposed legislation as a ‘groundbreaking proposal’ which could score Europe a small victory in the fight against child sexual abuse.
This proposed plan comes after the EU agreed on the landmarks rule which would require tech firms to take down hate speech and other illegal content on their platforms faster.
Activists for privacy are afraid this new bill may undermine end-to-end encryption.
‘The proposal is ‘incompatible with end-to-end encryption and with basic privacy rights,’ said Joe Mullin, Senior Policy Analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group.
‘There’s no way to do what the EU proposal seeks to do, other than for governments to read and scan use messages on a massive scale,’ he said. ‘If it becomes law, the proposal would be a disaster for user privacy not just in the EU but throughout the world.’
Policymakers all over the world have a long-standing battle with tech giants over the potential abuse of encrypted social media platforms like iMessage and WhatsApp. Governments have been looking for ‘backdoors’ which would enable them bypass the privacy controls.
‘We look forward to working with the EU to inform the legislative process on how we ensure the safety of children, both offline and online,’ a Meta spokesperson said.
‘It’s important that any measures adopted do not undermine end-to-end encryption which protects the safety and privacy of billions of people, including children.’
Although Brussels regarded the proposed legislation as ‘technologically neutral’, it sided against leaving end-to-end encryption out of the requirements.
The U.S. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children gave an estimate that over 50% of its child exploitation reports would be untraceable with end-to-end encryption.
However, privacy activists take the stance that eliminating encrypted communications would be ineffective.
‘Criminals are already using distribution channels that would not be affected by these scans and will easily escape scans in the future,’ said Linus Neumann of Chaos Computer Club.
The Brave Movement, an organization for child safety said the laws would ‘ensure the safety of children, adolescents and future generations.’
‘In the EU, digital spaces are in some cases completely unregulated— exposing children to the threat of horrific sexual violence and exploitation,’ said Wibke Müller, co-founder of the Brave Movement.
She said tech companies already ‘have the tools to detect and remove online sexual violence materials’ and should ‘prioritize child safety ahead of anything else.’
By Marvellous Iwendi