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German officials highlight major concerns with EU plan to scan phones for child sexual abuse material

The German Parliament held a hearing on Wednesday to discuss the EU’s proposed plan to combat child sexual abuse material.

 

Jacob Seitz

Tech

German Parliament held a hearing on Wednesday to discuss the European Union’s proposed law to fight child sexual abuse—and officials agreed the rule would go too far.

In its current form, the proposed law would force service providers in the EU to scan users’ texts, emails, files, game chats, videos, and any other file on a device for child sexual abuse material (CSAM). While the German Parliament doesn’t have direct involvement with the EU Commission’s proposal, the rule is being discussed between the EU Commission, the European Parliament, and the member states in the Council of Ministers, and Germany has an opportunity to attempt to persuade other states to join its opposition in these discussions.

During the hearing on Wednesday, Senior Public Prosecutor Markus Hartmann, Head of the Central and Contact Point Cybercrime North Rhine-Westphalia, said weakening encryption would have devastating effects.

“By doing so, the commission is in effect undermining the most important digital protection tool,” he said, “because compromised encryption is not encryption in the end.”

Elina Eickstädt, a computer scientist, said the draft legislation misses the mark of counteracting child abuse. She said the draft was a “crass overestimation of the capabilities of technologies” and represents an “unprecedented surveillance infrastructure.”

With a hypothetical error rate of one percent and one billion messages sent per day, she said, ten million false reports could arise every day. 

Felix Reda from the Society for Freedom Rights said the rule could immediately be overturned by the European Court of Justice for privacy violations, which would not serve to protect children. He also said that with such a wide breadth, explicit images sent between two consenting people could end up on the desks of EU officials.

Joachim Türk from the Federal Association for the Protection of Children said the rule has positives despite all the criticism, and that child sexual material needs to be addressed. But, he added, the right to the physical integrity of your content as well as confidential communication supersedes that.

After the hearing, the Bundestag put out a press release highlighting the concerns raised in the hearing by experts.

Critics have been incredibly vocal about the EU’s proposed rule since its initial proposal last year. The legislation is still being debated and a vote has not yet been set.

Apple proposed a similar scanning program for iPhones back in 2021 but killed the idea late last year after pushback from internet rights groups.

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