A global protest

I have just  released the text of a letter I wrote on Friday to the President of the European Union, Mr Juncker, to Vice President Ansip, Commissioner Gabriel, the Austrian Presidency and Signor Buttarelli, the European Data Protection Supervisor. The letter expresses grave concerns about the draft e-Privacy Regulation currently making its way through and nearing the end of the European Union’s legislative processes. In its present form the measure will seriously harm children.

The text can be downloaded here … it was……

A very international effort

I signed the letter on behalf of over 50 NGOs from all over the world.  Each one indicated their support by sending me a copy of their logo. These are all shown in an attachment to the letter.

Children’s groups in every EU Member State except Hungary and Malta signed up. If there had been more time I’m sure we could have made it a full house but as it is I cannot recall ever having seen such widespread backing for an initiative of this kind. The powers that be in Brussels need to rethink their approach. There is a critical meeting on 4th December.

Key international organizations such as ECPAT International, the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, INHOPE and THORN  also sponsored the letter, as did major national players with an international reach such as the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, the IWF and NCMEC.  Groups from Norway, Taiwan and Colombia jumped in to express their solidarity. Again, with more time the list could have been larger.

What is being proposed puts children everywhere at risk

I won’t repeat all the arguments here. They are in the letter, but the core point is the proposed e-Privacy Regulation attacks the operation of automated systems such as PhotoDNA which, hitherto, have been working spectacularly well to reduce the volume of Child Sex Abuse Material circulating on the internet.  It also threatens other technologies designed, for example, to detect and prevent children being groomed.

Where did this ridiculous idea come from? I have never heard even one voice raised against PhotoDNA and similar tools. On the contrary I hear law enforcement agencies and NGOs constantly calling for their larger scale adoption.

Even on the most generous interpretation of the draft – an interpretation not shared by many –  the Regulation would introduce a huge degree of uncertainty about the use of programmes such as PhotoDNA.  Conservative corporate lawyers, and I have yet to meet a radical one, will go for the line of least resistance and smallest risk. They will abandon PhotoDNA and advise against using anything like it.

Yet any company that provides storage or network services to the public, whether free or paid for, must know that unless they take positive steps it is pretty much a cast iron certainty their facilities will be being abused in ways which deprive children of their right to privacy and human dignity, in ways which damage children. Rather than attacking, circumscribing or undermining automated systems which work to protect children, European institutions should be going out of their way to promote, even require their use.

Who dreamt up these provisions in the e-Privacy Regulation in the first place and why? I have been unable to find a single person with a background in online child protection who was consulted at any stage in the pre-legislative or legislative processes. Had they been I doubt anything so egregiously wrong would have seen the light of day.