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Chat control: Politicians, industry raise alarm over EU’s unprecedented messenger surveillance plans

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Tomorrow (Thursday) EU governments are to vote on a bill (officially called “child sexual abuse regulation” but known as “chat control”) that would require automated searches in and disclosure of private chats, including end-to-end encrypted chats, that might contain illegal photos or videos.[1] If a user refuses this “upload moderation” of their chats, they would be blocked from receiving or sending images, videos and URLs. 48 politicians from Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands have published a letter to their governments calling for rejection of the latest version of the chatcontrol proposal, arguing that mass surveillance violates fundamental rights and would fail in court.[2] Signal and Threema have announced they would end their services in the EU if forced to implement the proposed automated monitoring (so-called “client-side scanning”). Whatsapp head Will Cathcart warned “scanning peoples messages like the EU is proposing breaks encryption”.[3] Last night NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was the latest to weigh in on X, calling the proposal “a terrifying mass surveillance measure”.[4]

It is not yet clear whether the proponents among EU governments will be able to convince enough EU governments to make a qualified majority, which is why tomorrow’s agenda item is marked as “possible”.[1] Against this backdrop Pirate Party Member of the European Parliament Patrick Breyer, who co-negotiated the European Parliament’s position on the proposal[5], has published a call on citizens to reach out to EU governments, listing several governments that may yet be undecided.[6]

“Europeans need to understand that they will be cut off from using commonplace secure messengers if chat control is adopted – that means losing touch with your friends and colleagues around the world”, warns Breyer. “Do you really want Europe to become the world leader in bugging our smartphones and requiring blanket surveillance of the chats of millions of law-abiding Europeans? The European Parliament is convinced that this Orwellian approach will betray children and victims by inevitably failing in court. We call for truly effective child protection by mandating security by design, proactive crawling to clean the web and removal of illegal content – none of which is contained in the Belgium proposal governments will vote on tomorrow. We have one day left to make our governments take a different approach of effective and rights-respecting protection while saving our privacy and security online!”

[1] Agenda for tomorrow’s meeting: https://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-11316-2024-INIT/en/pdf
[2] Open letter by EU lawmakers: https://www.patrick-breyer.de/en/lawmakers-across-the-eu-call-on-eu-council-to-reject-the-chat-control-proposal/
[3] Statement by head of Whatsapp: https://x.com/wcathcart/status/1803178653389623742
[4] Statement by Edward Snowden: https://x.com/Snowden/status/1803127597158760735
[5] Summary of the European Parliament’s position: https://www.patrick-breyer.de/en/posts/chat-control/#epmandate
[6] Breyer’s call for action: https://www.patrick-breyer.de/en/council-to-greenlight-chat-control-take-action-now/

Breyer’s website on the chat control proposal: https://chatcontrol.eu