European Parliament Freedom, democracy and transparency Press releases

Google whitewashing error-prone “incrimination machines”

Member of the European Parliament Patrick Breyer (Pirate Party) accuses Google of misleading the public in a recent communication[1] on its approach to tackling the circulation of illegal depictions of minors:

„The tech giants’ solutionist approach of using error-prone incrimination algorithms even on private and confidential messages such as e-mails sent via Gmail violates EU privacy of correspondence laws and causes massive collateral damage on users and society that by far outweighs the questionable benefit. In fact the indiscriminate screening of private communications is counterproductive by pushing criminals to underground networks where they are more difficult to prosecute.

According to statistics released by the Swiss Federal Police, 90% of all machine-generated allegations of ‘child pornography’ received via NCMEC are false and concern legal content.[2] Everyday hundreds of false reports generated by big tech are being sent to law enforcement agencies. These false allegations and their consequences such as house searches can have devastating effects on the lives of innocent families. The error-prone incrimination algorithms amount to corporate policing that lacks all safeguards public enforcement authorities come with. The flawed algorithms and hash databases are out of public control. NCMEC reports also frequently result in the criminalization of children, for example for sexting.

Generally monitoring and screening all private conversations inhibits safe end-to-end encryption and has a chilling effect on confidential communications which victims of crime, but also human rights defenders and dissidents are particularly in need of. It creates a dangerous precedent. There is a slippery slope from monitoring for child abuse to monitoring for unwanted or politically unfavourable content such as in China.

Victims of a crime as horrendous as child sexual abuse have a right to targeted measures that prevent abuse in the first place. Key to the protection of children is the funding of prevention, awareness, support and therapy as well as sufficient law enforcement capacities, especially for undercover investigations into the organised criminals that manage and profit from child sexual abuse.“

Breyer last year filed a complaint with the Irish data protection authority against Google and Facebook for violating EU privacy laws by indiscriminately searching all private messages with their error-prone algorithms.

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