EU Privacy Rule Would Rein In the Hunt for Online Child Sexual Abuse

An anonymous reader shares a report: Privacy concerns in Europe have led to some of the world’s toughest restrictions on companies like Facebook and Google and the ways they monitor people online. The crackdown has been widely popular, but the regulatory push is now entangled in the global fight against child exploitation, setting off a fierce debate about how far internet companies should be allowed to go when collecting evidence on their platforms of possible crimes against minors. A rule scheduled to take effect on Dec. 20 would inhibit the monitoring of email, messaging apps and other digital services in the European Union. It would also restrict the use of software that scans for child sexual abuse imagery and so-called grooming by online predators. The practice would be banned without a court order. European officials have spent the past several weeks trying to negotiate a deal allowing the detection to continue. But some privacy groups and lawmakers argue that while the criminal activity is abhorrent, scanning for it in personal communications risks violating the privacy rights of Europeans.

“Every time things like these unbelievable crimes are happening, or there is a terrorist attack, it’s very easy to say we have to be strong and we have to restrict rights,” said Birgit Sippel, a German member of the European Parliament. “We have to be very careful.” Of the more than 52 million photos, videos and other materials related to online child sexual abuse reported between January and September this year, over 2.3 million came from the European Union, according to the U.S. federal clearinghouse for the imagery. If the regulation took effect, the rate of reports from Europe would drop precipitously, because automated scanning is responsible for nearly all of them. Photo- and video-scanning software uses algorithms to compare users’ content with previously identified abuse imagery. Other software targeted at grooming searches for key words and phrases known to be used by predators. Facebook, the most prolific reporter of child sexual abuse imagery worldwide, said it would stop proactive scanning entirely in the E.U. if the regulation took effect. In an email, Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, said the company was “concerned that the new rules as written today would limit our ability to prevent, detect and respond to harm,” but said it was “committed to complying with the updated privacy laws.”