As the European Union considers a new regulation requiring encrypted services like WhatsApp, iMessage and Snapchat to screen their platforms for signs of child abuse content, internal legal advice has raised doubts about the lawfulness of the measure.
The proposed ‘Chat Control’ rule, which would force providers to alert authorities to any suspicious material or grooming activity, could potentially infringe upon users’ rights and privacy as well as stifle encryption technologies throughout Europe.
Raising further concerns, the Council of the EU’s legal service has noted that there is a significant risk that it could be deemed unlawful if questioned in court. This highlights the need for caution and continued dialogue as the body works to find the most effective way to protect its citizens while preserving fundamental rights.
The European Union’s lawyers have analyzed the draft regulation that outlines a requirement of general and indiscriminate screening of data processed by a particular service provider. This would be applied to all users of the service, without those individuals having been implicated in any potential criminal proceedings. The ruling issued by the European Court of Justice stipulates that such screenings are only acceptable when national security is at stake. Thus, it is highly unlikely that similar measures could be adopted for combating child sexual abuse or purposes, especially concerning any offences that are not criminal in nature. Ultimately, they concluded that the regulation could breach the principles of appropriateness and necessity, as well as the criteria of proportionality.
Moreover, its enforcement would demand the implementation of age verification technology for encrypted services, which could lead to mass profiling and interference with users’ rights and freedoms. Therefore, these experts believe it is essential to consider all aspects before enacting the regulation.