The European Commission on Wednesday proposed legislation to require digital companies to search, report and remove online child sexual exploitation material circulating on their platforms.
As POLITICO reported, Google, Apple, and Meta’s WhatsApp and Instagram could face court orders to search for child abuse photos and videos, or face hefty fines of up to 6% of their global income. Companies should also crack down on grooming – conversations where offenders inappropriately attempt connect with children.
The proposals come as child sexual abuse has increased during the coronavirus pandemic. Eighty-five million such videos and images were produced last year, according to the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Yet the scale of the problem is probably underestimated. Up to 95% of content was voluntarily reported by a company.
“The detection, reporting and removal of online child sexual abuse is also urgently needed to prevent the sharing of child sexual abuse images and videos, which often re-traumatize victims years after the end of the sexual abuse,” Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said. .
Digital businesses such as hosting services, clouds, messaging apps, internet access services and app stores will need to ensure they know the age of their users, a known practice under the name of age verification.
The plan also proposes to create a new independent European agency based in The Hague. Working alongside Europol with a budget of €26 million, it would be responsible for analyzing reports of illegal material, coordinating illegal material fingerprint databases (known as hashes) and helping companies to find reliable technologies. He would also serve as an intermediary between tech companies, law enforcement and victims.
While child protection groups have welcomed the law, tech companies and privacy activists have warned of the risks to encrypted messaging platforms and online surveillance.
Vice-President for Promoting Our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said detection by tech companies will be “very tightly framed with strong safeguards in place”.
The proposal will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the Council.
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