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E.U. cracks down on online child sexual abuse

Published : May 12, 2022 16:10 IST T+T-
The E.U. said more must be done to protect children.

The E.U. said more must be done to protect children.

The proposals would oblige companies operating in the E.U. to detect and report such cases, replacing a voluntary system.

The European Union on May 11 outlined plans to detect and report the sharing of child sex abuse images on the internet. The European Commission wants to force online service providers to remove child pornography from their networks. The bloc's plan calls for a headquarters to combat child sexual abuse based in The Hague and working with law enforcement agency Europol. "Child sexual abuse is a real and growing danger," E.U. home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson said. "We are failing to protect children today," she added.

What will the changes entail?

Currently, internet service providers are attempting to control such content on a voluntary basis. But Brussels wants them to be more proactive in hunting down harmful content rather than investigating complaints. Of the cases voluntarily reported, up to 95 per cent come from Facebook's platform, including its messenger option, but the problem is not just there, the European Commission said. Indeed, the E.U.'s main reasoning for altering the system is that it sees few companies doing the requested identification work.

The number of logged and reported cases has snowballed in the past decade as attempts to better track such activities improve and as internet access becomes ever more widespread. In 2010, 23,000 reports were registered across the E.U. By 2020, it was more than 1 million. Experts believe there are still a large number of unreported cases. "Not only is the number of reports growing, but these reports today concern younger children," Johansson said, calling reports "instrumental to starting investigations and rescuing children from ongoing abuse in real time."

Companies would in the future be obliged to submit risk assessment information on the issue to the E.U. If the competent national law enforcement authorities then deem there is a risk of abuse on a platform after reviewing this, they will be able to ask a court to issue a detection order. Critics of the plan have argued that the technological means of identifying users sharing such material, say via their private and sometimes encrypted messages, might then be used for other breaches of personal privacy. Digital rights group EDRI warned that the proposal appeared to call for widespread scanning of personal communications and would discourage companies from providing end-to-end encryption services.

Children more vulnerable than ever before

The E.U. wants to make the internet a safer space for children, who are going online more often than ever, and who constitute a growing proportion of those sharing such material between each other. "We want to support access to digital devices and skills for children, especially those in vulnerable situations, fight cyberbullying, and protect all children from harmful and illegal online content," E.U. Vice-President Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. Most children in the E.U. use their smartphones daily and almost twice as much compared to ten years ago, and from a much younger age, the statement added. According to the European Union, 60 per cent of reported cases of sharing child sexual abuse material across the globe occurs on E.U. servers.

jsi/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)