2023: A good year for privacy, a bad year for chat control

With 2023 coming to a close, where does that leave the draft EU Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) Regulation?

By EDRi · December 19, 2023

With 2023 coming to a close, where does that leave the draft EU Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) Regulation? The European Parliament has adopted a position which said “no way” to widespread mandatory age verification, the undermining of encryption, and the surveillance of people’s digital private lives without reasonable suspicion. Whilst Parliamentarians may have been hoping that this would light a fire under the feet of their Council colleagues, the opposite has in fact happened.

The Council (the grouping of representatives from all EU member states) remains resolutely blocked on the CSA Regulation. At a live-streamed meeting on 4 December of national interior ministers, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson – the controversial figure behind the law coined ‘Chat Control 2.0’ – lashed out at member states that opposed “her” proposal.

It has become common knowledge that the governments of France, Germany and Poland have in particular refused the Commission’s proposal for encryption-breaking mass scanning of private messages. But so far, these countries have remained stalwart in their commitment to ensure that EU rules to tackle child sexual abuse are effective, sustainable and compatible with the EU fundamental rights framework. This has meant refusing to agree to a proposed Council position.

On the other hand, Spain’s interior minister shockingly used this government meeting to criticise the Parliament’s position, calling it “not sufficient”. And the Irish minister joined in to raise her voice in support of the Commission’s original – and now notorious – proposal. This is emblematic of the deep divide in the Council between those member states who understand and respect the EU’s prohibition of mass surveillance, and those that seemingly do not. Despite countless legal and technical opinions delivering a damning critique, some member states remain wed to the Commission’s incoherent and deeply misguided proposal.

Now, leaked information from Netzpolitik reveals that the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU has finally admitted that it will not be able to find agreement among EU member states before the end of the year. With 2024 being a European election year, this means that it is all-but-impossible for the CSA Regulation to pass during the current political mandate. Negotiations between Council and Parliament could only start in autumn 2024 – if at all.

“The European Parliament has shown that it's possible to protect children online without resorting to dangerous and authoritarian mass surveillance methods. It’s positive to see that there’s no majority in the Council to supports the intrusive and unwarranted search of our private communications. It’s now time for the EU institutions to abandon the CSA Regulation proposal and permanently close this chapter of mass surveillance. Instead, we urge lawmakers to use this opportunity to pursue effective and sustainable laws and policies that will actually help protect children.”

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This does not mean that the fight against chat control is over. A newly-proposed extension to the controversial 2021 interim ePrivacy derogation (sometimes referred to as Chat Control 1.0) is now on the table. Rumours are also swirling that the European Commission is deeply frustrated by the Parliament standing up for our digital rights, and is considering options and strategies to push through broad, untargeted scanning measures despite a lack of political credibility.

That’s why the Stop Scanning Me campaign needs your help more than ever to resist the mass surveillance of our digital lives – now and in the future!