Chat control put to the test – EU data protection officers express criticism

The European Data Protection Board firmly rejects chat control as a serious encroachment on the fundamental rights of European citizens.

The European Data Protection Board expresses strong criticism on the draft regulation of the EU Commission to combat sexual abuse of children. The chat control contained therein is a serious encroachment on the privacy and fundamental rights of citizens.

Criticism of the proportionality of the chat control

The draft regulation of EU Commission to fight child sexual abuse poses more risks for citizens and society than for criminals. So the warning of the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) and the data protection officer Wojciech Wiewiórowski. In a -page paper, you express strong criticism of the draft law. Nevertheless, it is an important common goal of the EU to do something to protect victims against child abuse.

The draft includes, among other things, the controversial chat control, which obliges all communication services to locate image material of child abuse in the messages of all chat histories. Even if they are encrypted, as is the case with WhatsApp, Threema, Apple iMessage and Signal, for example. The aim of this measure is to track down violence against minors and to find clues for grooming.

Privacy of citizens under attack

The privacy advocates were very critical of the effects of the planned chat control, especially with regard to the privacy of the citizens. They see the risk in the regulation that they will be responsible for “general and indiscriminate scanning of the content of practically all types of electronic communications of all users in the EU” creates a legal basis. Interventions in the confidentiality of communication would be as a result “rather the rule than the exception “. The result would be a serious restriction of freedom of expression, since citizens would have to constantly assume that someone was checking their statements.

In addition, the AI ​​filters provided for image recognition could, due to their susceptibility to errors, lead to false suspicions. It is unclear how the algorithm is supposed to be able to reliably distinguish between harmless family photos on the beach and criminal acts. “In order to evaluate the reliability of the existing instruments“, according to the data protection officer, further investigations are necessary. Otherwise there is a risk that the chat control will transmit too much data of innocent people to law enforcement agencies.

Chat control is at the expense of encryption

Furthermore, the privacy advocates have expressed their concern that the messenger’s end-to-end encryption for chat control could be undermined. But this contributes “ in a fundamental way to respect for private life and confidentiality of communications, to freedom of expression, to innovation and to the growth of the digital economy

” at. Obliging providers to decrypt messages is disproportionate. Such a regulation could even tempt providers to do without encryption altogether.

The lack of details, clarity and precision of the conditions is also the focus of criticism. For example, it is unclear when exactly a provider can be obliged to monitor chats. The criteria are very subjective and would therefore lead to legal uncertainty, which is simply unacceptable.

Mass surveillance without cause seems disproportionate

According to Wiewiórowski, the consequences of the regulation would be so serious that they cannot be justified by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. And the Federal Data Protection Commissioner, Ulrich Kelber, also sees chat control as mass surveillance without cause, which is otherwise only known from authoritarian states. “ The so-called chat control offers hardly any protection for children, but would be Europe’s entry into an unreasonable and comprehensive surveillance of private communication “, says Kelber in a press release.

Family Minister Lisa Paus from the Greens also recently spoke out against private chat controls.

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