Provisional agreement on temporary rules to detect and remove online child abuse

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This article is brought to you in association with the European Parliament.


EP and Council negotiators reached a provisional deal on new temporary legislation to avoid sexual exploitation of children online and make it easier to report.

The agreed changes provide for a derogation to the confidentiality of the communication and traffic data articles of the rules governing the privacy of electronic communications and enable the providers of web-based email, chats and messaging services to voluntarily detect, remove and report child sexual abuse online as well as to use scanning technologies to detect cyber grooming.


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 is used for images and videos to detect child sex abuse material, and classifiers and artificial intelligence are used to analyse text or traffic data to detect cyber grooming.


Parliament’s negotiators secured that national data protection authorities will have stronger oversight of the technologies used, an improved complaint and remedy mechanism, and that the processed data should be analysed by a person before being reported further. Service providers will also have to improve their reporting on statistics.


This temporary legislation should apply for a maximum of three years, or fewer should new permanent rules on tackling child sexual abuse online be agreed in the meantime.


Quote


After the agreement, the rapporteur Birgit Sippel (S&D, DE) said :


“Child sexual abuse is a horrible crime and we have to improve its prevention, prosecution of offenders and support to the survivors. This means preventing the dissemination of online child sexual abuse material and grooming online. Yesterday’s compromise will allow the temporary continuation of certain voluntary measures for detecting online child sexual abuse, for removing it and for reporting it to the police and organisations acting in the interest of the children


As Parliament, we fought hard to improve the proposal, ensuring that the text is in line with existing EU data protection legislation and the Charter on Fundamental Rights. We have also added further safeguards, such as ensuring the user is properly informed about the possible scanning of his or her communications, providing guidance to the companies on the factors that could lead to suspicion for child sexual abuse. We managed also to insist that service providers ensure that there is a prior impact assessment and prior consultation with the data protection authorities. In the case of the more invasive technologies for fighting grooming online and for new technologies detecting child sexual abuse material the providers should ensure compliance with any advice given by the competent supervisory authority when applying these technologies. We introduced provisions on statistics, improved the provisions on transparency with regard to the reporting obligation of the providers and shortened the proposed period for which the temporary regulation will apply.


Yet, given the very diverging initial positions from Parliament and Council, there is no avoiding the fact that the compromise is far from being ideal. However, this only serves to reinforce our determination with regard to the work on a future regulation on fighting child sexual abuse online, which will replace the interim solution on which we found an agreement yesterday.”


Next steps


The deal will now be put to the Civil Liberties Committee and plenary for approval as well as to the Council.


Background


The Commission proposed to amend the e-privacy directive to allow service providers to continue to voluntarily detect child sex abuse online after the entry into force of Electronic Communications Code in September 2020. Parliament adopted its mandate for negotiations in December 2020.


The Commission announced in July 2020, as part of its strategy to combat child sexual abuse more effectively, that it will propose a more permanent solution regarding combating child sexual abuse online in the course of 2021.

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