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EU Urged to Withdraw Child Abuse Law amid Privacy Concerns

Photo: Unsplash-Jeremy Bezanger.

The European Federation of Journalists, together with 72 civil society organisations and professional bodies, called on the European Commission to withdraw child abuse draft regulation they claim will risk the protection of journalistic sources and everyone’s privacy.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), together with 72 NGOs and professional bodies, on Wednesday sent an open letter to the European Commission demanding it withdraw proposed child abuse legislation and replace it with a provision that secures privacy, security and free expression for all.

The European Commission published on May 11 new draft legislation, called the CSA Regulation, that aims to prevent and combat child sexual abuse. Under the proposal, private message services (like WhatsApp and Signal), web-based emails, social media platforms, app stores, image hosting providers and others would be liable for obligations to scan, filter and/or block content – including encrypted messages.

“When you fundamentally undermine how the internet works, you make it less safe for everyone. If passed, this law will turn the internet into a space that is dangerous for everyone’s privacy, security, and free expression. This includes the very children that the legislation aims to protect,” the 73 civil society and professional groups wrote in the open letter to the EU Commission.

The CSA Regulation would cause severe harm in a wide variety of ways, the groups argued.

The new regulation would force private technology companies to put communications and materials that citizens share under surveillance, which would have a direct impact on respect for the privacy of every citizen, while also leading to a restriction of freedom of expression in digital communications, these groups argued.

“The provisions of the proposed legislation for the restriction and suppression of child exploitation material on the internet, while dealing with such an important issue, fail to safeguard the protection of all of us in the digital space and put the privacy of our communications in immediate danger,” Homo Digitalis, a Greek digital rights NGO that co-signed the open letter, told BIRN.

Journalists and human rights activists would see their communications monitored under the new law, which the EFJ argues “could jeopardise the fundamental protection of journalistic sources.”

“This will put in immediate danger not only the continuation of their important work, but even their personal safety, in cases of authoritarian regimes. We are already seeing important facts coming to light that show that journalists are being monitored illegally, even in Greece. Imagine the direct impact that the imposition of this legislation will have on the entire journalistic field, on human rights lawyers, etc. It will give the tools to authoritarian governments to put – legally now – any control over the internet,” said Homo Digitalis.

In Greece, in November last year, the Greek journalist and BIRN contributor Stavros Malihoudis, as well as human rights activists found themselves the targets of surveillance by the country’s National Intelligence Service. Recently, the Greek journalist Thanasis Koukakis, a financial editor for CNN Greece and a regular contributor to local and international outlets including the Financial Times and CNBC, found that his mobile phone had been surveilled by Predator spyware.

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