The EU Is Proposing A Chat Control Law That Could Scan Your Messages – Even Encrypted Ones

The European Union is about to implement new legislation that would require the bulk scanning of digital messages—including encrypted ones. On Thursday, the proposed law, which aims to identify child sexual abuse material (CSAM), will be voted on. The outcome of this vote will decide how much support the law needs to move forward in the EU’s legislative process.

The rule would have to be introduced in 2022 and mandate an “upload moderation” system to check all digital messages, including links, videos, and photographs. Users cannot exchange photos or URLs without consent. Thus, each service provider needs permission from the user before scanning messages.

The laws take contrasting views on end-to-end encryption. While acknowledging the importance of end-to-end encryption in defending fundamental rights, it also raises the possibility that encrypted messaging services may unintentionally encourage the sharing of CSAM. To preserve the privacy layer of encryption and enable message scanning, the suggested approach is to scan messages before encryption using apps like Signal, WhatsApp, and Messenger.

Meredith Whittaker, president of Signal, strongly opposes the proposal, stating that it fundamentally undermines encryption. She said, “We can call it a backdoor, a front door, or ‘upload moderation.’ But whatever we call it, each one of these approaches creates a vulnerability that hackers and hostile nation-states can exploit.”

The Centre for Democracy & Technology, Mozilla, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are among the privacy groups that have come together to demand that the EU reject the proposal. European Parliament members concerned about the bill’s possible violations of fundamental rights include German MEP Patrick Breyer. According to Breyer, “Indiscriminate searches and error-prone leaks of private chats and intimate photos destroy our fundamental right to private correspondence.”

Breyer suggests that the timing of the renewed discussions on the chat control law is strategic, aiming to capitalize on the post-European Elections period when public attention is lower and the new Parliament is not yet established. He also notes the significant role of Belgium’s Interior Minister in pushing the bill forward, emphasizing that proponents failed to secure a majority last year and might view this as their last opportunity.

If the proposal receives the required backing, talks between the EU’s Parliament, Council, and Commission will take place to finalize the legislation. Nevertheless, supporters can still run into difficulties even with official support. The European Digital Rights (EDRi) group conducted a poll last year and found that 66% of EU young people are against laws letting internet service providers monitor private messages.

“Many lawmakers understand that fundamental rights prohibit mass surveillance, but they don’t want to be seen opposing a scheme framed as combating CSAM. My message is that children and abuse victims deserve measures that are truly effective and will hold up in court, not just empty promises, tech solutionism, and hidden agendas,” Breyer concluded.

The result of Thursday’s vote will significantly impact how digital privacy and surveillance are handled in the EU in the future.

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