European Parliament Passes Controversial 'Chat Control' Snooping Powers

European Parliament Passes Controversial 'Chat Control' Snooping Powers

BRUSSELS — Under serious criticism from privacy advocates, and during an inconspicuous late-night session, the European Parliament approved last week a controversial set of “chat control” measures making it legal for internet companies to scan all private messages by users if they claim they are looking for Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM).

However, a vast amount of legal sexual content could be misidentified by AI systems to trigger the “chat control” protocols, allowing authorities and private companies unprecedented snooping power over users’ adult content habits.

The measures are supposedly “an interim solution designed to fix problems with the European Electronics Communications Code (EECC), which came into force last December,” Forbes reported.

The EECC “barred tech companies from voluntarily looking for illegal content such as [CSAM],” but the new measures allow tech companies to “detect, remove and report such content, as part of a temporary solution lasting up to three years.”

The measures insist that the data processed will be “limited to what is necessary, and held no longer than necessary.”

“Processing must be subject to human oversight, and companies will need to consult national data protection authorities if they use anti-grooming technologies or new technologies to detect material,” Forbes continued.

A So-Called 'Compromise' That Merely Compromises Users' Privacy

EU rapporteur Birgit Sippel described the measures as “a compromise between detecting child sexual abuse online and protecting users’ privacy. It might not be perfect, but it is a workable, temporary solution for the next three years.”

Sippel did not specify what part of this "compromise" does anything to protect users' privacy.

"We now urgently need the Commission to propose a long-term solution that draws inspiration from the data protection safeguards found in the temporary rules, and which, in addition, makes scanning of private communications more targeted,” she added.

European Parliament MP Patrick Breyer, whose Pirate Party led the opposition to the measures, told Forbes that “chat control will allow email, messaging and chat providers to indiscriminately search your private messages for allegedly illegal material and report to the police, using error-prone algorithms and AI.”

"Blanket, real-time mass surveillance of all your emails and messages is inefficient, counter-productive, dangerous and causes severe collateral damage, including to children,” Breyer added.

Several other organizations “have expressed concerns that the measures could ... potentially represent an interference with the right to [privacy],” Forbes also reported.

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