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EU Parliament Committee: Majority wants chat control

European Parliament Freedom, democracy and transparency Press releases

According to the meanwhile published amendments of the Internal Market Committee (IMCO) of the European Parliament on the planned chat control regulation[1], a majority supports the bulk screening of private messages and photos of non-suspects for allegedly suspicious content. The European parliamentary groups of Social Democrats (S&D), Liberals (Renew), Christian Democrats (EPP), National Conservatives (ECR) and Far Right (ID) support the plan – with some reservations. Only the Greens/European Free Alliance and the Left reject the bulk screening of private messages and photos of non-suspects.

With the exception of the Liberals, all parliamentary groups want to exempt end-to-end encrypted messages from screening, thus excluding client-side scanning. However, the Christian Democrats want to make the analysis of metadata mandatory to search for known illegal material – how this is supposed to work without content analysis is not explained. Social Democrats and National Conservatives want to limit chat controls to known material, while the proposal also provides for searching for unknown depictions and attempts of solicitation by using “artificial intelligence”. Christian Democrats and Far Right MEPs want chat controls to be ordered by a judge, contrary to the proposal which would also allow orders by “independent administrative authorities”.

Liberals, Christian Democrats and Far Right conservatives want to go even further than the EU Commission’s chat control proposal by allowing providers to carry out chat controls on their own initiative without any judicial or administrative review or order. A lawsuit is pending against this type of “voluntary chat control” currently practised by US providers, and the EU Commission actually wanted to replace it with its proposal.

Like the Socialist IMCO Rapporteur Saliba, Pirate MEP Kolaja (Greens/EFA) wants to tame other rogue ideas from the draft regulation besides chat control: With regard to age verification, Kolaja tables that no mandatory age check or verification should be introduced, neither for communication services nor for app stores. In effect making the anonymous sending of emails, messenger and chat messages virtually impossible could make anonymous tips and police reports, for example by whistleblowers, impossible. Kolaja also wants to delete the proposed ban on app stores from allowing minors to install communication apps such as Whatsapp to protect them from adults initiating sexual contacts.

Pirate Party MEP Patrick Breyer, shadow rapporteur for his group in the lead Committee on Civil Liberties (LIBE), comments:

“Now that a broad majority for mass message and chat controls of non-suspects is emerging even in the tech-savvy Internal Market Committee of the European Parliament, alarm bells must be ringing for all those who want to stop total surveillance of private and intimate messages and photos. Only a Europe-wide wave of protests can now prevent the destruction of the digital privacy of correspondence. We Pirates are fighting for this side by side with the civil liberties movement!

The proposed cuts in chat control do not change the substance of the unprecedented plan for mass searches of the contents of private communication of law-abiding citizens: an exception for encrypted communication via messenger services would continue to expose the vast majority of emails and chats to chat control. The proposal by Christian Democrats to reserve chat control orders to the judiciary is of little value because judges remain legally obliged to issue these orders.

Limiting scanning to ‘known’ material also does not change the fact that in precisely this procedure 80-90% of the flagged messages and photos turn out to be entirely legal and end up in the wrong hands for no reason. It is precisely these chat controls that leave child porn rings completely unchallenged while criminalising young people en masse. Abuse victims also warn of an end to digital privacy of correspondence – not to mention its incompatibility with fundamental rights. At the same time, abuse material that law enforcement officials have long found on the darknet inexplicably remains unreported and continues to circulate.

It will probably be decided in 2023 whether the EU will introduce a mandatory general monitoring scheme so extreme that it doesn’t exist anywhere else in the free world. Now it is important that everyone helps to defend the digital privacy of correspondence – with petitions, by creating awareness for the issue and protesting.”

In the lead committee, LIBE, the draft report by Spanish conservative rapporteur Zachalejos is expected in mid-April.

[1] Amendments: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/IMCO-AM-745220_EN.pdf and https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/IMCO-AM-745291_EN.pdf , draft report: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/IMCO-PA-740727_EN.pdf

Breyer’s information website on chat control

Seee also: Analysis by EDRi