New EU Law Would Mandate Chat App Scanning for Child Abuse

Jamie Kavanagh
Jamie Kavanagh
June 2nd, 2022

The European Union is well known for proposing some crazy laws, but their latest is a doozy.

The Union proposes that chat apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger will have to scan all chats for child sex abuse material (CSAM).

Let us first say that anything that tackles this heinous crime is a good thing. It’s a scourge on the world and we are the first to welcome every move to stop this horrendous crime.

However, proposing to invade the privacy of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people to catch a few crazies is a little much.

Invasion of privacy

The law has only been proposed and is still being worked on, but it hasn’t gone down well so far.

Professor Matthew Green described it as ‘the most sophisticated mass surveillance machinery ever deployed outside China and the USSR. Not an exaggeration.’

The law puts the onus on the platforms themselves to provide the mechanism to scan, assess, and potentially report on the contents of every message you ever send, encrypted or otherwise.

It wouldn’t be wholesale monitoring, though. It would require a ‘Detection order’ from an authority within the EU to request that past chats be scanned for CSAM.

The law in its current draft stipulates that these detection orders would be targeted rather than indiscriminate to minimize invasion of privacy. Yeah right!

Apparently, the wording of the law recommends the use of these detection orders but doesn’t mandate it. This leaves the door open to mass surveillance.

Unworkable and unfair

The common view so far is that this law would be unworkable. It would require chat platforms to have a system that could store and scan chats on demand, even encrypted ones. Not all chat apps store messages and some that include end-to-end encryption have no way to decrypt them.

That would all have to change if this law was passed.

We know the U.S. has some crazy and some draconian laws, but this is a new extreme. We usually look to our European cousins for their restraint and more balanced approach to lawmaking.

Not in this case.

This law is still a proposal and not yet on the books. The EU still has time to come to its senses, but if it doesn’t, this will have ramifications for everyone.

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