Google, Meta and other online service providers will be required to find and remove online child pornography under proposed European Commission rules, a move some privacy groups say could put people’s communications at risk.

Companies that do not comply will face fines of up to 6% of their annual revenue or global turnover, the amount of which will be set by EU countries.

The EU executive said its proposal, announced Wednesday, aims to replace the current system of voluntary testing and reporting by companies, which has proven insufficient to protect children.

It cited more than 1 million reports of child sexual abuse in 27 country groups in 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic as a factor in a 64% increase in such reports in 2021 from the previous year. On top of that, 60% of the world’s child sexual abuse material is hosted on EU servers.

“The proposed rules impose an obligation on relevant online service providers to assess the risk of their services being misused for the dissemination of child sexual abuse material or the solicitation of children (beauty),” the commission said in a statement.

The companies will then have to report and remove known and new images and videos, as well as retouched cases. An EU Child Sexual Abuse will be established to serve as a centre of expertise and to submit reports to the police.

These rules will apply to managed services and interpersonal communication services such as messaging services, app stores and internet access providers.

The lobbying group Digital Rights said the committee’s could jeopardize end-to-end encryption and open the door to authoritarian tactics.

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Meta subsidiary WhatsApp expressed the same concern.

Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp, tweeted: “Unbelievably disappointed to see proposed EU internet regulations fail to protect end-to-end encryption.”

“It is important that none of the steps taken undermine the end-to-end encryption that protects the security and privacy of billions of people, including children,” a Meta spokesperson said.

The draft EU rules need to be discussed with EU countries and EU lawmakers before they become law.

© Thomson Reuters 2022



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