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Child protection through scanning of private messages? Investigation instead of monitoring!

communications screening European Parliament Freedom, democracy and transparency Press releases

The European Parliament today debated a draft legislation by the EU Commission that would allow the screening without suspicion of all private electronic communication via messenger or e-mail to search for possible child pornographic content. Commissioner Johannson argued in the European Parliament that the upload filters introduced for copyright protection in 2019 must be used especially to protect children. Next year, the filtering of all private communications should become mandatory for all providers, she announced.

Commission attacks confidentiality of private communication on the net

Specifically, international providers of e-mail and messenger services are to be permitted to search the content of all private messages for child and youth pornography as well as for the “luring” of minors in order to report this to authorities and non-governmental organizations worldwide. Not only searches for known pictures and videos are to be legalised, but also error-prone “artificial intelligence”, for example to automatically search text messages for “luring” of minors. If an algorithm reports a suspected message, message content and customer data could be automatically forwarded to law enforcement agencies and non-governmental organizations worldwide without human examination. Regardless of the outcome of the case, the persons concerned should never know that their private communications were disclosed.

The MEP Patrick Breyer (Pirate Party) denounces the initiative as counterproductive and harmful:

“The planned filtering of private communication of the EU Commission is counterproductive, disproportionate and threatens our security and privacy on the net, on which children are particularly dependent. Confidentiality and encryption will protect minors, for example, against the interception and misuse by pedophiles of private recordings that are exchanged by minors.

The Commission fails to understand that the screening project will increasingly force criminals into tap-proof communication channels, which will in some cases even make it impossible to prosecute child abuse. What remains are the real failures of policy to protect children, for example in the areas of inadequate prevention and detection of child abuse, inadequate funding of therapy services or completely overburdened forensic experts.

The Internet has long been indispensable for exchanging information in all areas of life. The path from censorship of criminal content to censorship of unwanted content is not far away. We must not allow digital black rooms to be set up in IT companies!

Since error-prone and non-transparent AI text filters are to be used, there is the threat of mass false suspicions and thousands of private messages being read by international corporations. The security of our communication infrastructure against criminals and secret services requires effective end-to-end encryption and no backdoors!”

Contradiction to the intended protection of the confidentiality of online communications

Following the European communications reform, the European Electronic Communications Code, which was adopted in 2018, messenger and e-mail services (e.g. Facebook Messenger, GMail) will also be covered by the Secrecy of Telecommunications at the end of the year. The EU Commission would now like to push through an exception for the screening of private communications in an expedited procedure before these EU rules come into force.

As early as 2011, an EU directive on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography was adopted, which proposes measures for combating child abuse and dealing with existing cases. The implementation of this directive is up to the EU member states, but it is still pending after 9 years in most countries.



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