The European Commission is proposing new EU legislation to prevent and combat it child sexual abuse on the Internet. With 85 million photos and videos depicting child sexual abuse reported worldwide in 2021 alone, and much more not mentioned, child sexual abuse is rampant. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the problem, with the Internet Watch reporting a 64% increase in reports of confirmed child sexual abuse in 2021 compared to the previous year.
Clear rules, with strict terms and safeguards, are needed to deal effectively with the misuse of online services for the purpose of child sexual abuse. The proposed rules will oblige providers to identify, report and remove child sexual abuse material from their services. Providers should assess and mitigate the risk of misuse of their services and the measures taken should be proportionate to this risk and subject to strict conditions and safeguards.
Vice President for the Promotion of the European Lifestyle Margaritis Schoinas stated that “the huge amount of child sexual abuse material circulating on the internet is discouraging. And unfortunately, Europe is the global hub for most of this stuff. So it’s really a big issue. If we do not act, then who will? The rules we propose set clear, targeted and proportionate obligations for service providers to detect and eliminate illegal child sexual abuse content. The services they will be allowed to provide will be very strictly fortified with strong safety valves “.
A new independent European Center for the Sexual Abuse of Children will facilitate the efforts of service providers by acting as a hub for expertise, providing reliable information on detected material, receiving and analyzing reports from providers, promptly transmitting relevant reporting and law enforcement support to the victims.
For her part, Vice President for Democracy and Demography Dubravka Suica pointed out that “child sexual abuse can be prevented if we work together to protect children. “We do not allow offline sexual abuse of children, so we should not allow it on the internet either.”
“Today’s proposal sets out clear obligations for companies to detect and report child abuse, with strong safeguards guaranteeing the privacy of everyone, including children,” said Home Affairs Commissioner Elva Johansson.
The new rules will help save children from further abuse, prevent the re-emergence of material on the internet and bring offenders to justice. These rules will include:
Mandatory risk assessment and risk mitigation measures: Hosting or interpersonal service providers should assess the risk of misuse of their services to distribute child sexual abuse material or to motivate children, known as grooming. Providers should also propose risk mitigation measures.
Targeted detection obligations, based on detection mandate: Member States should designate national authorities responsible for reviewing the risk assessment. When these authorities deem it a significant risk, they may request a court or an independent national authority to issue a search warrant for known or new child sexual abuse material. Tracking commands are time-limited, targeting a specific type of content to a specific service.
Strong detection safeguards: Companies that have received a tracking order will only be able to detect content using child-centered child abuse verification indicators provided by the EU Center. Detection technologies should only be used for the purpose of detecting child sexual abuse. Providers should develop technologies that are the least intrusive to privacy, according to the latest technology in the industry, and that reduce the error rate as much as possible.
– Clear reporting obligations: Providers who have detected online child sexual abuse should report it to the EU Center.
– Effective removal: National authorities can issue removal orders if child sexual abuse material is not removed quickly. ISPs should also disable access to non-removable images and videos, e.g. because they are hosted outside the EU in non-cooperative jurisdictions.
– Reduce exposure to grooming: The rules require app stores to ensure that children can not download apps that may expose them to a high risk of inciting children.
– Stable oversight mechanisms and remedies: Tracing orders will be issued by courts or independent national authorities. To minimize the risk of misidentification and reporting, the EU Center will verify reports of possible child sexual abuse on the internet by providers before notifying them to law enforcement and Europol. Both providers and users will have the right to challenge any action that affects them in court.
The new EU Center will support:
Internet service providers, in particular as regards compliance with their new responsibilities for conducting risk assessments, detecting, reporting, removing and disabling access to child sexual abuse on the Internet, providing indicators for the detection of child sexual abuse and receiving reports from providers.
– The national law enforcement authorities and Europol, examining providers’ reports to ensure that they are not mistakenly submitted and channeling them quickly to law enforcement authorities. This will help save children from situations of abuse and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Member States, acting as a knowledge hub for best practices for victim prevention and assistance, promoting an evidence-based approach.
– The victims, helping them to remove the material depicting their abuse.