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Protect Children deeply concerned over European Parliament’s compromise

Updated: Apr 10

STATEMENT/OPINION

31.10.2023


The European Parliament’s compromise agreement risks leaving children in even greater danger, in a time when stronger mitigation measures are needed more urgently than ever before.



Following a lengthy period of highly polarized public and political discourse and debate regarding the proposal for a Regulation to combat and prevent child sexual abuse (05/22), in which the best interests of the child have most often been neglected, and misinformation, portrayed as catastrophic “what-if” scenarios have been painted, the recent announcement from the European Parliament on their draft compromise is the latest cause for significant concern for the realisation of children’s rights, worldwide. Protect Children condemns the compromise presented by the LIBE Committee, which can be seen as having the potential to worsen the already dire situation for children’s safety online.


The draft compromise suggests a lack of understanding of sexual violence against children, the extensive scope of the issue and how to combat it. Notably, limiting detection orders to targeted instances and individuals, significantly restricts the possibility to detect the crimes in a timely manner, and does little to tackle the sheer and immense volume of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) being shared online. It is estimated that two images and/or videos depicting sexual violence against a child are shared online every second. From our interpretation, the process from issuing a detection order to executing it could take several months. This, combined with leaving end-to-end encrypted (E2EE) environments outside of the scope of the regulation, markedly limits the possibility to intercept and save children from ongoing sexual violence and combating the large-scale dissemination of material depicting some of the most heinous forms of crimes against children.


The exclusion of E2EE environments is on its own a notable controversy, as it would leave a safe haven for offenders seeking to contact children and spread CSAM, in addition to leaving the choice to companies whether to implement some of the main requirements of the regulation. Protect Children’s latest, preliminary research findings show that many offenders are contacting children on the very platforms which would now be excluded from the regulation, and hence leave these crimes undetected. Alarmingly, the draft compromise seemingly also leaves voluntary detection of CSAM outside the scope of the regulation. If this is indeed the case, combined with the significant limitations regarding detection orders, it has the potential to not only limit, but greatly reduce the amount of CSAM which is detected, reported and removed. The resulting situation would be catastrophic for children, not only in the EU, but worldwide, and would lead to the continued revictimization of victims and survivor as material depicting their abuse continues to be spread.


These proposed amendments are entirely counter-productive to the very core aims of the proposed Regulation. Protect Children will continue to advocate for the rights of children and call on EU- decision makers to stand by children, victims and survivors worldwide.


The words we use and narratives we present matter


While in a rights-based society it is essential that we have tough discussions to find compromises, especially when weighing different fundamental rights to find proportional solutions, this does not justify belittling the issues at hand to portray one's own views on the matter. Suggestions made that the proposed regulation has been developed merely to “create a state of mass-surveillance" not only undermines the significant work being done by countless child protection organizations and agencies around the world to keep children safe, but it is especially a striking insult to any child, victim and survivor who have been subjected to these horrific crimes which the regulation seeks to combat. Any attempt to downplay the gravity of the issue, by for example, suggesting that the amount of CSAM circulating online is less than has been reported or that part of the images do not portray abuse as they have been “self-generated” is nothing less than appalling. Every single image of child sexual abuse circulating online is one too many and needs to be taken seriously.


Furthermore, it is important to highlight that suggestions that the issue can be solved through prevention alone (usually focusing on prevention in the form of educating children, carers and educators) again demonstrates a lack of understanding. While we, as an organization, have prevention at the very core of our work, we work with a holistic approach exactly because we know that it is impossible to combat the issue through only one perspective. Emphasizing the responsibility of children themselves and their parents to prevent children from falling victim to sexual violence online, is not only unrealistic, but it also contributes to increasing the already, while misplaced, strong feelings of shame and guilt experienced by victims and survivors of these crimes, suggesting that if they had been better educated, perhaps they would not have had not have to endure what they did. This also conveniently takes away focus from placing responsibility on the very companies offering services through which children are falling victim to these horrific crimes daily.


In no other area of children’s rights is it expected that children and their parents are solely responsible for the realization of these rights. This should be no different when considering the rights of the child online. We must regulate online environments, or we will continue to fail children worldwide.


Matilda Sandvik

Head of Advocacy, LL.M., Protect Children

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