National Network for Children has joined international and national NGOs to an urgent call on the European Parliament to support a European Commission proposal ensuring that online service providers can continue to join the fight against child sexual abuse online.
In spring 2020, Europol reported a surge in online distribution of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) during the covid-19 crisis.
Law enforcement focuses its efforts on the gravest forms of abuse against the youngest children as the volumes currently circulating exceed by far their capacity. Online service providers have therefore been an important ally in the fight against sexual abuse online.
On a yearly basis, 17 million voluntary reports of CSAM and grooming of children are made to authorities by internet service providers using technological tools to detect the offending material on their networks. Almost 3 million of these reports pertain to material hosted in the European Union.
The European Electronic Communications Code entering into force in December may inadvertently make these voluntary reports impossible, by expanding the definition of electronic communications to which the e-Privacy Directive applies. The European Commission has therefore proposed a temporary derogation from certain provisions of the ePrivacy Directive, which aims to allow for the continued use of specific technologies, such as PhotoDNA, for the limited purpose of combatting child sexual abuse online. It will do what is urgent and necessary to continue to protect children’s right to physical and moral integrity.
Not all Members of the European Parliament are convinced that they should support the European Commission proposal, mainly because of lack of trust in big Tech companies (internet service providers) and fear for using personal data for advertisements. However, the protection of children from having photographs and videos graphically depicting their abuse being spread widely justifies such a specific, limited, proportionate and temporary derogation until a permanent solution is found. If the EU does not adopt a temporary derogation this will leave children unprotected from grooming and unable to take back control over their images for years to come.
On 15 October the LIBE Committee in the European Parliament will debate on this.