BRUSSELS – The European Union’s executive arm on Wednesday unveiled a plan for the need for an online platform to share images of child sexual abuse on the Internet, which has quickly raised privacy concerns.
Voluntary identification is currently the norm and the commission believes that the system does not adequately protect children as many companies do not perform identification.
Reports of online child sexual abuse in the 27-nation bloc increased from 23,000 in 2010 to more than 1 million in 2020. The International Police Organization Interpol also reported an increase in the online distribution of sexually explicit images of children during COVID-19. Worldwide.
Between 2014-2020, reports of child abuse on the Internet increased from 1 million to about 22 million, and a similar increase was observed worldwide, with more than 65 million images and videos of child sexual abuse being identified.
EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Elva Johansson said: “Not only is the number of reports increasing, but these reports are of concern to young children today.”
“These reports are helpful in initiating investigations and rescuing children from ongoing abuse in real time,” he added. “The identification, reporting, and removal of child sexual abuse online is urgently needed to prevent the sharing of images and videos of child sexual abuse, which often resurfaces victims a few years after the end of sexual abuse.”
In practice, providers need to assess the risk that their services are being misused for the dissemination or decoration of child pornography content and should offer risk mitigation measures. If the appropriate authorities of the EU countries find the risk of abuse after reviewing the risk assessment, they can ask a court to issue an identification order.
The EU Commission is adamant that the new rules will provide stronger protections for privacy and respect for personal data, although critics say the proposal could allow companies to spy on users.
Digital rights group EDRI has warned that the proposal calls for a comprehensive scan of personal communications and discourages companies from providing end-to-end encryption services, which scams messages so that they cannot be read by anyone else and is used by chat apps signals and WhatsApp. . The group fears that technology companies will take the most intrusive measures to avoid legal trouble.
“The European Commission is opening the door to a wide range of authoritarian surveillance strategies,” said policy adviser Ella Jakuboska.
Today, she said, online platforms will scan personal messages for child sexual abuse content. “But once these methods are out, are governments being forced to scan for evidence of dissent or political opposition tomorrow?”
The commission said any review would take place anonymously and that steps to identify users would only be taken if potential child abuse was identified. In addition, the technology used will not allow the extraction of any information other than the information required to detect abuse.
“Encryption is an important tool for maintaining cyber security and the privacy of communications,” the commission added. “At the same time, its use as a safe channel can be abused by perpetrators to cover up their actions, which could hamper efforts to bring perpetrators of child sexual abuse to justice.”
To help providers better identify abuses, the Commission has proposed the creation of an EU Center on Child Sexual Abuse, acting as an “expert center”. It will be similar to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a U.S. nonprofit reference center that helps families and victims of exploitation.
Under the European Commission’s plan, the center will help coordinate work between the 27 countries of the European Union on law enforcement, prevention and assistance for victims of child sexual abuse.
During the epidemic, lockdowns imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus exacerbated the problem for children, who spent more time online and were more at risk for predators. Reports of confirmed child sexual abuse increased by 64% in 2021 compared to the previous year, according to the Internet Watch charity.
Germany’s top security official, Nancy Fesser, welcomed Johansson’s offer but said Germany would now “closely examine the draft of the commission and contribute intensively to (European) Council discussions.”
His spokesman, Maximilian Call, told reporters in Berlin that “of course we will focus on balancing a better and more effective fight against sexual violence against children on the one hand and civil liberties online on the other.”
Kelvin Chan, an Associated Press business writer in London, and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to the story.