Back in December 2020, the European Union passed the e-Privacy Directive despite calls from child safety organizations, including the international division of NCOSE, to amend it to better protect children. While online privacy is an essential principle, some aspects of the e-Privacy Directive rules effectively halted private companies’ ability to identify and remove child sexual abuse material (child pornography) and grooming online.
Tragically, the predictions of child safety advocates were proven true.
After the December 2020 element of the EU’s ePrivacy Directive went into effect, there was a dramatic 58% decrease in reports of child sexual abuse online in the EU to NCMEC. This decrease in reporting came at a time when COVID-19 led to more children spending time online and arguably facing greater risk to online abuses than ever before.
A temporary agreement was passed in April to allow for some detection of online child sexual abuse, but the regulations still prohibit the development of new and better tools. Please sign this joint letter to the EU to urge them for a permanent, and more comprehensive, solution!
As the letter states:
“Permanent legislation must be swiftly adopted which not only allows for, but mandates, the use of current technologies to detect child sexual abuse and exploitation, while at the same time, mindful of the principle of proportionality, allowing for the development and use of better technologies as they become available. This approach is crucial, as current technologies have significant limitations. New technologies may be created which solve these limitations, and it is imperative your legislation be wide enough in scope to allow for their use and as they become proven perhaps find a way to require their use in appropriate circumstances, again ever mindful of the principle of proportionality. This is additionally important because perpetrators may eventually learn to avoid detection by specific technologies. We therefore insist you improve the Interim Regulation, which currently only allows for the use of “existing, state-of-the-art technology” to detect online grooming. Permanent legislation must also make space for technologies to identify online conduct that is grooming of minors. Already technological solutions like ensuring stranger adults cannot message or comment on children’s social media and flagging adult accounts for review if they attempt to contact multiple minors, are being developed by some social media companies and certainly these tools can become more precise and beneficial over time
We are not unsympathetic to concerns of e-privacy. Privacy is a right that ought to be respected and upheld. It cannot, however, be absolutely upheld to the point of egregiously impinging upon the rights of children. Article 24 of The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union states that “[c]hildren shall have the right to such protection and care as is necessary for their well-being”. It further states, “In all actions relating to children, whether taken by public authorities or private institutions, the child’s best interests must be a primary consideration.” Child protection tools provide highly targeted intelligence through collecting evidence indicating the strong likelihood that crimes are being committed or attempted against children. This allows for an intervention that may save a child’s life or prevent serious harm. E-privacy was never intended to provide immunity and impunity for child sexual abusers.”
Please sign this letter if you agree that the European Union must ensure children are safe online, now and in the future.