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Act now: Unprecedented EU plans to indiscriminately screen private correspondence online

The EU wants private e-mail, messaging and chat conversations to be screened for suspicious content generally and indiscriminately. On the eve of tomorrow’s European Data Protection Day, an international campaign against the plans is launched today, initiated by Member of the European Parliament Patrick Breyer. He is calling on Internet users to spread the news and protest in letters to their representatives and governments. Graphics, cartoons, sample letters and statements are provided for this purpose.

The justification given for the proposed messaging and chat control is the protection of children, but it will have unprecedented consequences on the privacy of all EU citizens: Intimate information such as nude photos and videos can fall into the wrong hands. The error-prone “denunciation machines” falsely report hundreds of innocent Internet users every day to the police for alleged child pornography, criminalising especially minors. We will end up with a system of mass surveillance through fully automated real-time messaging and chat control, effectively abolishing the secrecy of our digital correspondence.

In recent weeks, experts and data protection commissioners have voiced concerns or sharply criticised the proposed legislation (so-called “ePrivacy derogation”). The bill was originally to be passed in a fast-track procedure and is now expected to be voted in March. The PIRATES will use this time to draw attention to the far-reaching consequences of establishing indiscriminate messaging and chat control.

“The indiscriminate screening and control of the private messages of the entire population using error-prone technology is worthy of a digital surveillance state like China, but not of a democracy,” Breyer denounces the plans. “Even video conferences with doctors would be affected. Permanent monitoring makes confidential counselling of victims and patients impossible. Especially in times of pandemic, the planned mass surveillance of digital communication basically affects every one of us.

The European Court of Justice accepted a permanent automated analysis of private communications only if it is limited to suspects (Case C-511/18). We must not allow the EU to disregard rulings by our highest courts!”

Sebastian Alscher, Chairman of the German Pirate Party adds:

“The general reading of messages, including automated reading, would be an outrage and must be urgently prevented. Where I decide to send someone a picture or write a message in private, I assume that it always enjoys the protection of privacy. This confidentiality must not be shaken if we want our communications to remain the scaffolding of our society and respect its necessity for humanity and empathy. Treating anyone as a potential criminal damages this vital social glue.”

Background:

In 2020, the European Commission presented a legislative proposal that would allow providers to use error-prone technology to search all private chats, video conferences, messages and emails in a fully automated manner, without suspicion and across the board, for potentially prohibited depictions of minors and attempts to initiate contact with minors. If an algorithm reports a suspicious case, all message contents and contact data are automatically forwarded to a private distribution centre and on to police authorities worldwide without human verification. The users concerned are not notified. No judge needs to order this search.

Some US services like Gmail and Outlook.com already practice this automatic message and chat control. Encrypted messages are currently excluded. The EU Commission soon wants to propose additional legislation that will oblige all providers to use this error-prone monitoring technology.

Campaign site “Messaging and chat control”

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