MEPs back use of technologies to detect child sexual abuse online

The scanning practices should not be able to understand the substance of the content but only spot patterns, they say

Photo: EP Birgit Sippel.

Ensuring that providers can continue the job of detecting and removing online child sexual abuse material, MEPs from the Civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee adopted their position with 53 votes in favour and 9 against, 2 abstentions.

The report also seeks to introduce important safeguards, such as prior mandatory data protection assessments and human overview of any data being processed, to ensure the protection of children online against sexual abuse is not done at the expense of fundamental rights.

The proposed regulation will provide for limited and temporary changes to the rules governing the privacy of electronic communications so that over the top (“OTT”) communication interpersonal services, such as web messaging, voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), chat and web-based email services, can continue to detect, report and remove child sexual abuse online on a voluntary basis.

Child sexual abuse is a horrible crime and we have to get better at preventing it, prosecuting offenders and assisting survivors, both online and offline, rapporteur Birgit Sippel (S&D, DE) said. She outlined that  Parliament wants existing legal scanning practices to continue being used for online child sexual abuse material.

“However, the Commission has failed to provide basic information about additional technologies they wish to legalise, without knowing if they even exist in the EU: technologies that analyse the content of every message of every user in order to detect patterns that might point to cyber grooming. I am ready to start negotiations as soon as possible in order to find a legally sound solution that respects the EU Charter of Fundamental rights, the GDPR and the rule of law,” Sippel underscored.

Online material linked to child sexual abuse is detected through specific technologies that scan the content, such as images and text, or traffic data. Hashing technology could be used for images and videos to detect child sex abuse material, and classifiers and artificial intelligence could be used to analyse text or traffic data and detect grooming (“solicitation”).

While allowing this practice to continue, MEPs agreed that this material has to be processed using technologies that are the least intrusive to privacy.

Lawmakers demanded that the technology used should not be able to understand the substance of the content but only detect patterns. The processed data should be analysed by a person before being reported to authorities. Interactions that are covered by professional secrecy, such as between doctors and their patients, journalists and their sources or lawyers and their clients should not be interfered with.

This legislation should not be interpreted as prohibiting or weakening end-to-end encryption, MEPs underlined, and this derogation should not be extended to include audio communications.

When no online child sexual abuse has been detected, all data have to be erased immediately, MEPs insisted. Only in confirmed cases can the strictly relevant data be stored for use by law enforcement for a maximum of three months.

 

 

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