The EU wants to force providers of e-mail and messenger services to check their customers on the net in a bid to fight against child abuse. Will our chats soon no longer be private?
The European Union wants ALL chats to be controlled by smartphone manufacturers and chat providers. The reason: One hopes for more success in combating child abuse.
A plan that compromises everyone’s chats?
As early as July, the EU Parliament voted on the “use of technology to process data in order to combat the sexual abuse of children on the Internet”. However, this right to chat control for unencrypted services expires at the end of the year.
Auf EU Ebene wird übrigens gerade die verpflichtende #Chatkontrolle vorbereitet: Hersteller müssen auf Smartphones verdachtsunabhängig eure Nachrichten scannen. Erkennt die KI eine Straftat, wird eine eine Anzeige beim BKA gegen euch gestellt. Klingt gruselig? #Thread— Maurice Conrad (@Maurice_Conrad) October 31, 2021
But: We are currently working on ensuring that it will continue indefinitely. And: it should then also be possible to scan encrypted chats.
Following a recommendation by the Interior Committee and the agreement between EU states and parliament, 537 EU MPs voted for a corresponding exception to the e-privacy directive.
What does that mean in concrete terms?
E-mail providers and messenger services scan all communication between users – this also includes the images sent. It is hoped that this will help identify potential images of abuse and other child welfare risks. If there is an actual suspicion, it is forwarded to the investigating authorities.
The July resolution so far relates to unencrypted content. With the new regulation, however, encrypted chats could also be screened. Means: Then WhatsApp, Telegram and Co. are also on.
An absolute no-go for privacy advocates! The automatic real-time monitoring represents a significant threat to privacy for all users in the network, they say.
There are also protests from the providers themselves. They rejected the initiative in an open letter in the summer.
Opinion of the EU dissenters to this comprehensive surveillance
133 MPs voted against this comprehensive surveillance. One of them is Patrick Breyer from the Pirate Party. In an interview, Breyer explains why he voted against the law, why such provisions do not necessarily help those affected and why innocent people should also worry.
Patrick Breyer: There are four tabs in the infocalypse that can be used to justify all encroachments on our fundamental rights: terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering and child pornography. You must not be blinded by the headline of such laws. You always have to ask yourself: is this really effective in protecting children? Isn’t it more likely to harm victims of abuse? And: Is there even serious collateral damage as a result of the measures – which disproportionately and unreasonably interferes with fundamental rights?
Surveillance without suspicion
But there is also criticism of the project. The European Data Protection Supervisor has already said in the past that even voluntary measures by companies, such as the planned scans, represent an invasion of privacy.
Patrick Breyer of the Pirate Party calls this an “abolition of the digital secrecy of letters.” Since messages can be scanned in principle, indiscriminately and without prior suspicion, Breyer also fears that citizens could come under suspicion for no reason.
Another problem is that, in the event of suspicion, the company will forward the personal data to the police without those affected being aware of it, says Breyer.
Once such an AI scanning system is active, hackers could also access this data.
Scans have a low hit rate
There are fears that scanning the unencrypted messages may just be the beginning. And there have been efforts in the past to give authorities access to encrypted messages.
In addition, such mass monitoring of messenger services does not appear to be particularly effective from a criminal law point of view.