EU passes rules for detecting child abuse material online

7 Jul 2021

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The temporary measure will allow web services to monitor private messages for evidence of abuse content.

The European Parliament passed a temporary measure on Tuesday (6 July) to enable greater measures to be taken by online services to detect child abuse content.

The rules allow web-based messaging services to monitor and report private online message for child sex abuse materials or evidence of grooming.

In its agreement, MEPs said that “service providers should use the least privacy-intrusive technologies possible”. The legislation will be in place for a maximum of three years while the European Commission proposes a permanent solution.

It is part of changes made to the legal standing of electronic communications where private messages fall under the remit of the ePrivacy regulation, which is undergoing reforms in Europe, rather than GDPR.

Tuesday’s agreement is a temporary solution to a complicated issue that will require long-term legislation.

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“Child sexual abuse is a horrible crime that violates human rights. We have to prevent it more effectively, prosecute more offenders and offer better support to survivors. The agreement is a compromise between detecting child sexual abuse online and protecting users’ privacy,” MEP Birgit Sippel, the rapporteur for the legislation, said.

“It might not be perfect, but it is a workable, temporary solution for the next three years. We now urgently need the Commission to propose a long-term solution that draws inspiration from the data protection safeguards found in the temporary rules, and which, in addition, makes scanning of private communications more targeted.”

The latest measure has not been without its critics. Czech MEP and European Parliament vice-president Marcel Kolaja said it will allow for greater surveillance of users.

“All our personal electronic messages will be monitored to check whether they do not contain suspicious content. It is unacceptable,” he said.

He added that he supports measures to protect children but was opposed to measures that allow for general monitoring and surveillance.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin

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