The EU Commission is proposing to screen and monitor all private electronic communications without suspicion in order to search for possible child pornographic content. Today it presented draft legislation to this effect. 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.
Patrick Breyer (Pirate Party), Member of the European Parliament, denounces the initiative:
“Cens-Ursula von der Leyen is trying to attack our security and privacy on the net via the EU. What she does not understand is: The more criminals are pushed to move their communications to impenetrable channels the less likely will the prosecution of child abuse be successful. And we would still be left with the real deficiencies in the protection of children, for example regarding insufficient prevention of child abuse, insufficient funding of therapy services and completely overburdened forensic experts.
Intercepting and filtering the content of all our private communications without suspicion and across the board by corporations such as Facebook and Google is absolutely ineffective and even counterproductive for investigating the channels used by organized crime, but it threatens the privacy and security of Internet communications of millions of innocent citizens and will probably not stand up in court.
Imagine the postal service were to open all letters in search of the forbidden. We will not accept that Cens-Ursula sets up new digital black rooms in the hands of private corporations!
With error-prone and opaque AI text filters in place, we can expect countless users falsely reported every day and a thousandfold reading of private messages by international corporations. Particularly affected would be messages from teenagers among themselves, who have a right to respect their sex lives. Reports are to be uncontrollably forwarded to states such as the USA, where no data protection applies, with unforeseeable consequences when travelling. Cens-Ursula apparently thinks she can simply ignore the mass protests against upload filter censorship machines last year, but she is wrong!”
Contradiction to the intended protection of the confidentiality of online communications
The Commission’s draft law is in conflict with an already adopted law on the protection of Internet communications, which is to come into force with the European Electronic Communications Code at the end of the year. The Code aims to protect the confidentiality of messages via messenger services, e-mail communications and Internet telephony and to extend the secrecy of telecommunications to them. End-to-end encryption to protect against spying is to become mandatory. The planned changes in the new law would remove this confidentiality and create backdoors to encryption. Breyer comments: “The mass screening of private messages in the absence of any suspicion violates the fundamental right to respect our privacy and our correspondence. The security of our communications infrastructure and its protection from criminals and foreign spies require effective end-to-end encryption!”
Breyer considers the surveillance of commercial communication services to be ineffective in the fight against criminal content on the net, since organized crime uses other communication channels that evade filtering. “To really improve law enforcement we need to tackle the alarming backlog in the analysis of data media confiscated by the police. Instead of turning foreign corporations into unaccountable private police, criminology must finally enter the digital age”. In the past, investigations on false suspicion of child pornography possession have repeatedly led to suicides.
Effective action in fighting child abuse should be the top priority
It is estimated that 10% of all children become victims of sexual abuse in the course of their lives, mostly within the circle of family, friends and caregivers. Fortunately, the numbers are declining. In order to effectively combat child abuse, effective prevention should be brought into focus, e.g. by educating young people about dangers of the Internet. Therapy services need to be funded adequatly. The capacities of already overburdened forensic technicians need to be increased.