Listen, engage and educate; no matter how long it takes

June 26, 2024

Last week we highlighted a deeply concerning development in the EU’s proposed regulation to combat child sexual abuse (aka Chat Control).

The Belgian Presidency of the Council had put forward a proposal which, if agreed on, would take us closer to a world of constant scanning and surveillance.

Thankfully, at the last minute, the vote on Chat Control was removed from the agenda as seemingly the council was not able to agree on a position. That was part in response to an outcry from multiple organisations that understand the need for secure communication. We need to keep this momentum of uniting voices from industry, academia, civil society and lawmakers to ensure that our right to secure and private communications remains protected.

Whilst it was positive that the EU turned away from the vote, it is still not the time to move our attention away from this dangerous proposal. Commission officials publicly admitted its proposal would break encryption, but justified it because of the need to protect children.

The fact that the proposal includes multiple exemptions - such as staff of intelligence agencies, police and military not being subject to the envisaged scanning of chats and messages - demonstrates considerable hypocrisy and shows the EU has a clear understanding of the dangers of this type of proposal.

And yet, simultaneously it shows no understanding at all. A ‘backdoor’ is a backdoor; a vulnerability in an otherwise secure platform. Create a backdoor for the ‘good people’ to do ‘good things’ and shortly after it’ll be exploited by ‘bad people’ to do ‘bad things.’ Keeping a backdoor ‘safe’ so that the police, military and other ‘good people’ can’t be surveilled by the ‘bad guys’ is woefully naive.

Question the motive of those embracing the emotive

Repeatedly we see children and their protection being spotlighted as the justification for such invasive measures as at-scale routine surveillance, as if children themselves are also not deserving of privacy. As we’ve been saying for a while, we tend to be sceptical of the claim that proposals such as Chat Control or the Online Safety Act in the UK have children’s best interests in mind. If that was the case we would see the sort of societal and infrastructural changes that would actually support and help children, like investment in social services, investment in safe third spaces for children and teenagers, digital education for parents, children and educators, etc. We could go on but the fact of the matter is simple - this was never about the children, not really.

This is not a problem isolated to Europe. Recently the Australian online safety regulator announced standards that would impose requirements on messaging services to detect and remove certain types of material. Again, advocates were quick to voice their concerns and a compromise was reached in the end which afforded some protections to encrypted services. Proposals for similar types of regulation regularly pop up across the Atlantic too, from both the US and Canada.

The reality is that this fight will never end. End-to-end encryption protects people’s ability to freely express and organise themselves - it is hard to think of a stronger threat to those that aim to stay in power at all costs. It perhaps explains why Russia, China and India are those where governments have done the most to undermine end-to-end encryption. The UK, with the Online Safety Bill, is on the precipice of joining them; toppling between draconian legislation and the - now publicly admitted - realisation that it’s reliant upon technology that simply doesn’t exist.

We remain committed to joining all of those continuing to fight for the protection of our rights, and educating lawmakers and regulators  on these topics.

Related Posts

By the same author

Thanks for reading our blog— if you got this far, you should head toelement.ioto learn more!