EU Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson has reacted calmly to the criticism from the federal government of her proposals to combat depictions of child abuse on the Internet. “I’m not nervous,” said the Swede of the German Press Agency in Brussels. She works particularly well with Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD). This also feels very committed to the fight against abuse representations.
“Support from Germany”
Johansson is betting that it will take some time before everyone has read and understood their proposal in detail. She will present the draft at an EU ministerial meeting at the end of the week. Of course, it will take some time for the ministers to go through the text because it is “a fairly extensive proposal”. “But I’m very happy about the support I’ve received from Germany, for example from Nancy Faeser.”
In mid-May, the EU Commission presented a draft law with which it intends to curb the spread of child pornography on the Internet. Civil rights organizations and other critics use the buzzword “chat control”. They see it as an attempt to scan all communication on the network, including encrypted messages, and fear mass surveillance. There is no technology that can accurately track down depictions of abuse and grooming. Grooming is the contact of adults with children with intent to abusively. The draft even goes too far for the German Child Protection Association.
“encroachment on protected area”
Federal Ministers Marco Buschmann, Volker Wissing (both FDP) and Faeser have also recently expressed criticism. Justice Minister Buschmann tweeted that he was “very skeptical” politically and legally. “My company rejects a general, comprehensive surveillance measure for private correspondence, especially in the digital sphere.” In the Bundestag he said: “Chat controls have no place in the rule of law.” Digital Minister Wissing announced that some of the proposals worried him “because they could represent an intrusion into the protected area of confidentiality of communication”.
After initially welcoming the proposal in principle, Faeser also changed his mind. On Friday she said: “It’s about encrypted communication. That would be like looking at every letter, in every mailbox. Nobody wants that.”
Always check possible hits with humans
Johansson, on the other hand, defends the draft and emphasizes that it does not prescribe any technology. Rather, the text that the EU states and the European Parliament now have to negotiate defines a specific procedure. Accordingly, all companies must first analyze how great the risk is that child pornography will be shared on their pages. If necessary, the sides would have to take countermeasures. This makes it much harder for criminals and pedophiles, said Johansson. If this is not sufficient, a so-called “detection order” for scanning the content can be ordered by a court or another independent authority.
Johansson points to other precautions to protect privacy, such as when searching for grooming cases. Grooming is when adults with the intention of abusive contact with minors. Because the technology is not yet as accurate as that used to detect known depictions, hits must always be verified by humans before actual cases are passed on to law enforcement, Johansson said. This should happen at a newly created EU authority.
Germany could be outvoted
She leaves it open which software should do all this. “We don’t know what kind of technology will be developed,” she told dpa. She will not fall into the trap of writing a specific technology into law that may already be outdated by the time the rules come into force. The decision as to whether a particular technology is sufficiently effective in relation to how much it invades people’s privacy must always be made by the competent authority. Because technology is evolving rapidly, this trade-off may change over time.
Next, the EU states and the European Parliament will negotiate the proposal before they have to agree on a common line. However, the position of the Council of Ministers does not have to be unanimous. The federal government, which promises a “right to encryption” in the coalition agreement, could possibly be overruled by the other countries.
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