EU Lawyers Say Plan To Scan Private Messages For Child Abuse May Be Unlawful
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An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian:
An EU plan under which all WhatsApp, iMessage and Snapchat accounts could be screened for child abuse content has hit a significant obstacle after internal legal advice said it would probably be annulled by the courts for breaching users’ rights. Under the proposed “chat controls” regulation, any encrypted service provider could be forced to survey billions of messages, videos and photos for “identifiers” of certain types of content where it was suspected a service was being used to disseminate harmful material. The providers issued with a so-called “detection order” by national bodies would have to alert police if they found evidence of suspected harmful content being shared or the grooming of children.
Privacy campaigners and the service providers have already warned that the proposed EU regulation and a similar online safety bill in the UK risk end-to-end encryption services such as WhatsApp disappearing from Europe. Now leaked internal EU legal advice, which was presented to diplomats from the bloc’s member states on 27 April and has been seen by the Guardian, raises significant doubts about the lawfulness of the regulation unveiled by the European Commission in May last year. The legal service of the council of the EU, the decision-making body led by national ministers, has advised the proposed regulation poses a “particularly serious limitation to the rights to privacy and personal data” and that there is a “serious risk” of it falling foul of a judicial review on multiple grounds.
The EU lawyers write that the draft regulation “would require the general and indiscriminate screening of the data processed by a specific service provider, and apply without distinction to all the persons using that specific service, without those persons being, even indirectly, in a situation liable to give rise to criminal prosecution.” The legal service goes on to warn that the European court of justice has previously judged the screening of communications metadata is “proportionate only for the purpose of safeguarding national security” and therefore “it is rather unlikely that similar screening of content of communications for the purpose of combating crime of child sexual abuse would be found proportionate, let alone with regard to the conduct not constituting criminal offenses.” The lawyers conclude the proposed regulation is at “serious risk of exceeding the limits of what is appropriate and necessary in order to meet the legitimate objectives pursued, and therefore of failing to comply with the principle of proportionality”.
The legal service is also concerned about the introduction of age verification technology and processes to popular encrypted services. “The lawyers write that this would necessarily involve the mass profiling of users, or the biometric analysis of the user’s face or voice, or alternatively the use of a digital certification system they note ‘would necessarily add another layer of interference with the rights and freedoms of the users,'” reports the Guardian.
“Despite the advice, it is understood that 10 EU member states — Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Spain — back continuing with the regulation without amendment.”