An important step forward for children’s safety online in the fight against child sexual abuse


7 December 2020


Today, the LIBE Committee approved by a large majority a compromise text on the Temporary derogation from certain provisions of Directive 2002/58 as regards the use of technologies by number-independent interpersonal communications service providers for the processing of personal data and other data for the purpose of combatting child sexual abuse online marking an important step forward in the fight against children sexual abuse online.

This legislation follows up to the European Commission Communication of 24 July 2020 on the EU Strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse and aims to allow number-independent interpersonal communications services to continue to utilise technological tools to detect child sexual abuse online after the entering into force of the European Electronic Communication Code on December 21 2020.        

“Number-independent interpersonal communications services such as messaging services and email provide 2/3 of all reports concerning child sexual abuse received by law-enforcement authorities. Therefore, their cooperation is essential for law-enforcement authorities and keep children safe. These reports include not only abusive images and videos but also situations that pose an imminent danger that qualify as grooming -e.g. details of arrangements to meet to physically abuse the child. I think it is important that we remain faithful to the original purpose of the Interim legislation proposed by the Commission and stick to the protection of children by emphasising that the technological tools deployed by online services providers to detect child sexual abuse online (known and new images and videos, as well as grooming) are not privacy-intrusive.  We also use these technologies in malware and spam filters to protect our computers, and we should be able to continue to use the same technologies to protect our own children from sexual abuse.” – said MEP Hilde Vautmans (Belgium, Renew Europe), Co-Chair of the Intergroup on Children’s Rights.

The US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) received almost 17 million reports of child sexual abuse from tech companies in 2019 alone. These reports included not only abusive images and videos, previously known as well as new, but also grooming situations. These reports are instrumental in rescuing children in the EU and globally from child sexual abuse

The purpose of this temporary legislation is to introduce a temporary and limited derogation on certain provisions of the ePrivacy Directive to address the unintended consequences of the European Electronic Communication Code, which will outlaw the voluntary tools currently in use to detect child sexual abuse online. Without this derogation, number-independent interpersonal communications services providers will no longer be allowed to utilise technologies to detect known photos of child sexual abuse, new photos of child sexual abuse, as well as instances of solicitation of children for sexual purposes, known as “grooming”, and report it to the public authorities.

“What it is at stake here is the privacy of our children whose innocence was lost through their exploitation. Their privacy is violated every time the images and videos of their abuse are seen and circulated online. This creates distress and enormous trauma for the victims. I think it is important to set the record straight and shift the narrative to its original point: safety of children online and therefore putting forward a victim-centred approach by allowing companies to continue to make use of the technological tools so that victims can be identified and their perpetrators brought to justice. I want to emphasise that privacy is very important, but once again, this is not the issue here. These technologies, including anti-grooming technology, cannot understand the content of the communication. They are only able to identify patterns of possible child sexual abuse as well as already known images and videos. The anti-grooming technology is the only tool that actually works as a preventive measures by allowing law-enforcement authorities to intervene before the abuse is consumed, therefore rescuing children from an imminent danger of sexual abuse and exploitation!” – said MEP David Lega (Sweden, EPP), Co-Chair of the Intergroup on Children’s Rights.

“I am glad we managed to reach a compromise on this important and time-sensitive piece of legislation. I have wholeheartedly supported this temporary derogation, as it is imperative that number-independent interpersonal communications services continue to cooperate with law-enforcement authorities to identify the victims – and rescue children from ongoing abuses – and bring perpetrators to justice.  I think the compromises amendment package we voted today in LIBE is an adequate text to continue the discussions with the Council of the EU and the European Commission. The Parliament text introduces a number of safeguards to be respected by online services providers, which take well into account the rights of privacy and data protection of users and ensure that companies do not misuse their tools outside of the specific scope of the legislation: detecting child sexual abuse online and save children’s lives. This legislation sets an important and unique precedent in the EU and is a great step forward in the fight against child sexual abuse online, preparing the ground for a long-term legislative instrument on which will work on next year, after that the Commission will put forward its draft next June 2021.” – concluded MEP Javier Moreno Sanchez (Spain, S&D), Vice-President of the Intergroup on Children’s Rights and Head of the Spanish S&D Delegation of the European Parliament.





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