EU wants stricter action against child pornography by internet companies


European Union


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The EU Commission presented plans on Wednesday to better protect children from sexualised violence on the internet. Privacy activists are critical.

The European Commission (EC) presented its plans for a generalised scanning obligation for messaging services write European media, including the German tagesschau. The proposal contains "clear obligations for companies to detect and report child abuse", said EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson. "We will find you," Johansson told offenders.

"Providers of hosting services and interpersonal communication services that have received a detection order shall execute it by installing and operating technologies to detect" circulation of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) upon request by the competent judicial authority or independent administrative authority, the draft regulation states according to Euractiv.

The text says that the technologies used to this end must be "effective", "sufficiently reliable", "state of the art in the industry", and "the least intrusive" so that they won't "be able to extract any other information from the relevant communications than the information strictly necessary to detect."

There will also be a European expertise centre to promote cooperation and exchange, including police and justice. The centre will be accommodated in The Hague.


Large internet companies are protesting the proposals. Civil rights organisations fear that the new rules will limit internet freedom and jeopardise privacy. The plans would tamper with Internet traffic encryption and thus open the door for governments and companies to spy on users.

The American Matthew Green, one of the most prominent researchers on encryption, is stunned by the Commission's plans on Twitter. The document describes "the most sophisticated mass surveillance machinery ever developed outside China and the USSR".

The Commission not only wants to search for known and new images but also to target the attempts at solicitation in the text of messages ("grooming"). Therefore, the planned law amounts to mass surveillance of all messages, a "scary" scenario, says Green. He calls it "science fiction" that an "artificial intelligence" could accurately scan messages for such content while preserving the privacy of those affected, German website Netpolitik.org writes. The associate Professor of Computer Science at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, says that such a thing does not exist today.

However, the EC emphasises that companies must always opt for the least invasive approach and that anonymity is the rule until child abuse occurs. The proposals still have to be approved by the EU countries and the European Parliament.


For years, governments have been wracking their brains over the fight against online child pornography and other harmful material. In the last decade, the number of reports of child sexual abuse in the EU has increased forty-fold. During the coronary pandemic, the flood of images and forums where perpetrators try to find victims has grown alarmingly, child protection organisations warn. More than 60 per cent of online child pornography is hosted on European servers.



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