24th Jan 2022

EU to announce new mandatory rules on child sexual content

  • The EU accounts for more than 70 percent of all child sexual-abuse material hosted in the world
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Internet firms will be required to detect, report and remove child sexual abuse content under soon-to-be announced EU Commission proposals.

EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson on Tuesday (7 December) said she plans to present the new legislation early next year.

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"I will propose legislation to make it mandatory for companies to detect, report and remove child sexual abuse material," she said, in a panel discussion.

The legislation may follow yet-to-be-agreed new powers by the EU's police agency, Europol, to develop artificial intelligence when it comes to dealing with encryption and large volumes of data.

Johansson had also announced plans to create a new EU centre to prevent and combat child sexual abuse. She said the centre would bring together efforts to prevent, investigate, and assist victims.

The EU alone accounts for more than 70 percent of all child sexual abuse material hosted in the world, according to experts.

At least one-in-five children in the EU is a victim of some form of sexual violence, according to Belgian liberal MEP, Hilde Vautmans.

The MEP is co-chairing a European Parliament group on child rights. "It's a real shadow pandemic," she said.

The UK is also widely affected.

Last year, almost nine million attempts were made in the UK to access images and videos of child sexual abuse.

The UK-based National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said there had been over 90,000 child sexual abuse and images recorded by the police in the UK in the year ending March.

Another 200,000 children have sent, received, or been asked to send sexual content to an adult, it said.

However, the commission's proposals are likely to generate heated discussions over privacy, a core fundamental right in the European Union.

It also follows debates over rules in the EU's e-privacy directive, which went into effect last December.

This included provisions preventing firms from monitoring email, messaging apps, and other online platforms in the EU.

The US-based National Center for Missing & Exploited Children said the directive led to a 58 percent decrease in EU-related reports of child sexual exploitation online.

Johansson then proposed emergency legislation to temporarily circumvent the rules, allowing web-based email and messaging services to continue to detect, remove and report child sexual abuse online.

Some critics says the moves could end up pushing the abuse further under the radar.

Others say efforts to automate the screening may lead to inaccurate results, possibly incriminating innocent people.

Among the staunchest critics the German Green MEP Patrick Breyer.

Earlier this year, in a statement, he described Johansson's temporary measures on the e-privacy directive as illegal.

He said they allow all providers to automatically and indiscriminately search all personal electronic mail and messages of each citizen.

"It has a chilling effect on the exercise of fundamental rights online, including of children and victims, minorities, LGBTQI people, political dissidents, journalists etc," he said.

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