EU directs chat apps to scan private messages for child abuse

European Union flags fly outside the European Commission building in Brussels, Belgium, on June 9, 2021. (Xinhua/Zheng Huansong/IANS)

Brussels, (Asian independent) The European Commission on Wednesday proposed a new legislation to prevent and combat child sexual abuse on social media platforms.

The proposed rules will oblige providers to detect, report and remove child sexual abuse material on their services, the Commision said in a statement.

“Providers will need to assess and mitigate the risk of misuse of their services and the measures taken must be proportionate to that risk and subject to robust conditions and safeguards,” it added.

Further, the Commission also deputed an independent EU Centre on Child Sexual Abuse (EU Centre), which will help service providers with reliable information on identified material.

It will also receive and analyse reports from providers to identify erroneous reports and prevent them from reaching law enforcement, swiftly forwarding relevant reports for law enforcement action and by providing support to victims.

The new rules will help rescue children from further abuse, prevent material from reappearing online, and bring offenders to justice, the Commision said.

With 85 million pictures and videos depicting child sexual abuse reported worldwide in 2021 alone, and many more going unreported, child sexual abuse is pervasive.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue, with the Internet Watch foundation noting a 64 per cent increase in reports of confirmed child sexual abuse in 2021 compared to the previous year.

The Commission stated that the current system based on voluntary detection and reporting by companies has proven to be insufficient to adequately protect children.

Up to 95 per cent of all reports of child sexual abuse received in 2020 came from one company, despite clear evidence that the problem does not only exist on one platform.

The EU called for “clear rules” “with robust conditions and safeguards” to effectively address the misuse of online services for the purposes of child sexual abuse.