Children should be able to enjoy online the same rights they already hold offline. Unfortunately, this is not a reality in Europe, despite a shift in lifestyle that sees children live their lives online and offline indistinguishably.
Child sexual abuse affects at least one in five children in Europe and one in every seven victims is under 6 years. Under the current interim regulation valid until end of summer 2024, tech companies have been able to voluntarily detect child abuse material with little supervision or guidance and always having the possibility to opt out.
The European Commission plans to continue their work in the fight against child sexual abuse and exploitation with the proposed EU Legislation to Prevent and Combat Child Sexual Abuse. Eurochild welcomes the clear and standardised procedure this proposal brings to detect, remove, and report child sexual exploitation and abuse.
For the first time, mandatory rules will be in place to oblige companies, given the circumstances, to take action against child sexual abuse material. Moreover, the creation of an EU Centre to validate detection technologies, coordination, and best practices is proof of the EU’s high commitment to a long-term solution.
Eurochild believes in a solution where comprehensive privacy is compatible with ensuring a high standard of child protection.
As the current proposal requires detection technologies to be ‘the least privacy-intrusive’, we argue that any consideration of proportionality must put the child’s best interests at the centre, especially in complex encrypted environments. The EU must be aware of the further damage any intervention affecting encryption could have on children themselves. Therefore, more investment in innovation is key to refine existing technological solutions and build new technologies that combat child sexual abuse in an effective but safe manner. Provisions must be expanded to include proactive technologies that help identifying new CSAM and grooming. Technology must also be part of the solution.
Eurochild believes that children are not only victims in need of protection, but rights’ holders in their own right. It is therefore essential that children are directly involved in the development of the proposed legislation.
The responsibility of a ‘safe’ and ‘wise’ use of online products should not fall on children. Instead, online platforms and services must be designed in a way that it is safe for children. Eurochild commends the horizontal set of obligations foreseen in the EU’s proposal regarding risk assessments and mitigation to prevent online features being used for child sexual abuse, hence supporting safety by design.
Child online safety is a complex issue that goes beyond sexual violence, including the special susceptibility of children’s data online. To mark Safer Internet Day, Eurochild calls for:
- A child rights approach to the EU regulation which puts the best interests of the child at the centre, including children’s right to have a say on offline and online safety.
- A holistic approach to child protection that recognises the importance of the interlinkages with national child protection systems.
- A swift implementation of the Digital Services Act (DSA) – and most importantly article 28 – and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provisions, to uphold children’s right to privacy online.
- A swift drafting and adoption of an EU Code of conduct on age-appropriate design.
- An EU Centre that promotes child-centred and -safe design, invests in the development of safer technologies to detect and remove CSAM and integrates a child-rights-based approach, involving child rights experts and children themselves.