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Chat control evaluation report: EU Commission fails to demonstrate effectiveness of mass surveillance of intimate personal photos and videos

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Yesterday, the EU Commission published its long-overdue report on the effectiveness of voluntary chat control. Claiming to protect children, major US providers such as Meta, Google and Microsoft automatically bulk search private chats, messages and emails for suspicious content, without cause and indiscriminately. For Member of the European Parliament and most prominent opponent of chat control Patrick Breyer (Pirate Party), the results are devastating:

“The long overdue evaluation of voluntary chat control turns out to be a disaster: Provided figures on suspicious activity reports, identifications and convictions lack any proven connection to the chat control bulk scanning of private messages because NCMEC reports also result of user reports and the scanning of public posts/websites. ‘Identifying’ the senders of self-generated nudes in consensual sexting is hardly a challenge and does not protect anyone from child sexual abuse. All in all, there is no evidence that the industry-driven mass surveillance of our private communications by US services makes a significant contribution to saving abused children or convicting abusers. To the contrary, it criminalises thousands of minors, overburdens law enforcement and opens the door to arbitrary private justice by big tech.

The report fails to mention what Commissioner Johansson recently admitted to the EU interior ministers: Only one in four of the personal photos or videos that are disclosed to moderators and police are of any use for law enforcement; thus 75% of the leaked private and intimate images and videos are entirely criminally irrelevant but end up in the hands of staff where they don‘t belong and aren‘t safe. In 2022, the error-prone chat control incrimination machines disclosed no less than 750,000 European private messages without any relevance for law enforcement. The confidentiality of our communications is systematically being violated.

The EU regulation on voluntary chat control is obsolete and violates our fundamental right to privacy: Social networks that classify as ‚hosting services‘ do not need a regulation to screen public posts to begin with. And the error-prone scanning of private communications by Zuckerberg’s Meta group will soon be a thing of the past anyway thanks to the announced introduction of end-to-end encryption. The legal opinion of a former EU Court fo Justice judge finds that voluntary chat control mass surveillance violates fundamental rights. A survivor and I are suing Meta over its chat control practice, and the complaint will be heard on 1 February 2024. The misguided method of indiscriminate chat control must be stopped as soon as possible!”

Breyer criticises the EU Commission for relying on the solitionist approach of chat control mass surveillance to better protect children: “With their unprecedented failed attack on digital privacy of correspondence and secure encryption, the ‘Big Sisters’ von der Leyen and Johansson are responsible for the fact that so far nothing at all has been achieved to better protect our children. Because of their incorrigible obsession with mass surveillance, the EU Commissioners are preventing truly effective prevention, such as by making internet services secure by design and default (security by design). Victims of abuse deserve politicians who are capable of effective, politically viable, fundamental rights-compliant and court-proof child protection measures – as is the cross-party consensus in the EU Parliament.”

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