EU fails to uphold protection of children from sexual abuse online through technology
On the 21st of December the European Electronic Communications Code came into force, which widened the scope of the EU’s e-Privacy Directive to include emails and private messaging. The effect has been that technology used by Service Providers to scan messages for child sexual abuse material and patterns of grooming, and which supported takedown of such material and prevented predators from approaching children online, has now become illegal. Several service providers, including Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Roblox and Yubo App, have expressed their commitment to child safety and intention to continue using the technology to take down child sexual abuse material.
The legislation is a massive blow to the fight against online child sexual abuse, in Europe and globally. At a time when the problem is growing exponentially, service providers are an indispensable 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, containing almost 3 million pictures and conversations from the European Union.
- In 2019, online grooming had tripled on certain social networks, according to NSPCC.
- In spring 2020, Europol reported a surge in online distribution of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) due to the COVID-19 crisis.
As child protection organizations we therefore welcomed the European Commission’s Strategy against Child Sexual Abuse, presented on July 24th 2020, which announced the intention to make reporting of online child sexual abuse by internet service providers mandatory. Privacy and child protection can go hand in hand. It is unacceptable that due to the e-Privacy Directive, as of today, children are left unprotected from situations of online grooming and unable to take back control over images graphically depicting their sexual abuse, until that legislation is in place, which could be several years down the line. For these children, the consequences may be life long.
We therefore commend the service providers who continue to uphold existing protections for their courage and encourage all others to do likewise. We insist that the European Parliament, Commission and Council swiftly agree on a temporary exception to enable tech companies to continue their voluntary reporting. In addition, we urge all stakeholders to work swiftly towards long term legislation that makes reporting and takedown of child sexual abuse material and grooming on their platforms mandatory for service providers.
“Every second and every child counts”, said Maud de Boer Buquicchio, President of Missing Children Europe and former UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child sexual abuse material. “We cannot let privacy law prevail over the need to scan and take down content of abuse of children”
Mr. Costas Yannopoulos, President of the Organization “The Smile of the Child”, stated:
“We will keep fighting for the protection of the Rights of the Child. We must not leave our children exposed to the appetites of paedophiles, nor be tormented for the rest of their lives by the re-viewing of images of their sexual abuse on the internet. The protection of personal data should not become an obstacle to the protection and mental health of minors. The issue is also linked to a very important platform in which “The Smile of the Child” participates, and to which we do not yet know the extent of negative effects. NCMEC’s CyberTipline (*) is the centralized reporting system for the online exploitation of children. The public and electronic service providers can make reports of suspected online enticement of children for sexual acts, extra-familial child sexual molestation, child sexual abuse material, child sex tourism, child sex trafficking, unsolicited obscene materials sent to a child, misleading domain names, and misleading words or digital images on the internet.
- (*) CyberTipline – active link available for reporting online sexual abuse of minors.
- The National Helpline for Children SOS 1056 of “The Smile of the Child” is available to the public 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is available nationwide and staffed exclusively by specialized Social Workers and Psychologists. Calls to SOS 1056 are free-of-charge.