Dismay as European Parliament votes to limit scope of child sexual abuse regulation

Published:  Tue 14 Nov 2023

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and more than 65 child rights organisations are urgently calling on EU leaders to get vital child sexual abuse legislation ‘back on track’ to making the internet a safer place for children.

The call follows today’s vote by the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee on the EU’s proposed Regulation laying down rules to prevent and combat child sexual abuse.

The LIBE Committee’s approach would eliminate the ability for platforms to voluntarily detect for online child sexual abuse; not allow for the detection of grooming or solicitation of minors, and would restrict the technology to detect child sexual abuse – to those internet users already suspected of child sexual abuse crimes.

The IWF, Europe’s largest hotline for finding and removing online images and videos of children being sexually harmed and raped, was initially supportive of the proposed Regulation but feels that in its current form it will fail to protect children.

Susie Hargreaves OBE, Internet Watch Foundation CEO, said: “A child safety crisis is looming in Europe. These proposed changes would instead put children more at risk from online harm than they are already.

“A weak legal framework will immediately lead to a reduction in the number of reports of child sexual abuse from tech companies and, therefore, the number of children and victims being protected.

“By restricting the use of technology to detect child sexual abuse material to such a small group of individuals – those who are already under suspicion – the regulation would fail to be able to tackle these crimes at scale.

“EU leaders from Member States must not throw out what already works about the current system.”

Ms Hargreaves added: “This Saturday marks the European Day for the Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, but policymakers need to do more than mouth empty words in support of victims and survivors and actually implement laws that will make a positive difference.”

The charity is joined in its condemnation by the European Child Sexual Abuse Legislation Advocacy Group* (ECLAG), a coalition formed of more than 65 child rights organisations.

ECLAG spokesperson Nathalie Meurens said: “Today, the LIBE Committee of the European Parliament voted on their position on the CSA Regulation. We, a collective of child rights organisations, are underwhelmed and disappointed. What started as a fairly ambitious proposal has now been dangerously watered down. Should this position become law, children will be less protected than they are today. It's now on the Member States to get this legislation back on track to making the internet a safer place for children.”

Last week, more than 80 organisations and survivors, representing a collective frontline against child sexual abuse, wrote to EU leaders to express deep concern at the European Parliament’s compromise and stated: “We cannot accept a step back from the current situation in the protection of children online.” Find out more here.

* ECLAG works across the EU to raise awareness of the pressing need to protect children online in our ever-developing digital world. ECLAG supports the #ChildSafetyON campaign to call for laws and policies to ensure children are safe online. The Steering Group of the coalition is made up of Brave Movement, ECPAT International, Eurochild, Missing Children Europe, Internet Watch Foundation, Terre des Hommes and Thorn.

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