Protecting children in the digital environment and the rule of law

By EDRi · October 10, 2012

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Deutsch: [Schutz der Kinder im digitalen Umfeld und Rechtsstaatlichkeit |]

EDRi sent a letter to the Vice-President of the European Commission,
Neelie Kroes on 3 September 2012 regarding the current work in the field
of protecting children in the digital environment, while respecting
digital rights.

While acknowledging the good work already done in some EU projects, such
as EUKidsOnline that have set a new global benchmark for thorough
research in this policy area, EDRi has raised in this letter a number of
concerns, previously presented in policy papers or EDRi-gram, in
relation to the development of the EU child protection policy in some
specific projects and especially in the CEO Coalition:

“On the most basic level, we have been unable to get a clear response
from your services as to the likely relationship of the Commission with
any outcomes/agreements that the industry group could produce. Does the
Commission envisage verifying or confirming the legality of any
outcomes? Does it envisage publicly endorsing any outcomes?

A clear position from the European Commission is crucial – it needs to
take a position as to whether or not any of the envisaged measures
represent restrictions on fundamental rights(…)”

EDRi also points out to the the lack of attention given to ensure the
credibility of the CEO Coalition:
“For such an industry-led project to be successful, as well as for the
Commission’s own credibility, the outcome must be above suspicion of
anti-competitive machinations or vested interests. However, the way in
which the working groups have been put together raises serious questions
in this regard. In particular, there is a clear risk that
commercial interests of certain leading companies may have, or may be
perceived to have, undue influence on certain working groups.”

A specific issue is identified in the promotion of widespread upload
filtering using the PhotoDNA software. Thus, there has been no attempt
at all to produce comprehensive analysis of the experience of the use of
PhotoDNA in the United States, where it has been used for over two
years, nor by Facebook in Europe, which has been using the software for
one year.

“This means that we have no independent verification that the software
is effective both at avoiding false negatives (letting material slip
through, a particular issue when there are few samples to hand) and
false positives – a concern that it will incorrectly flag irrelevant
material, in particular when it is trying to detect a great many images
in parallel.”

Thus EDRi expressed its worries that this and other policies generated
by the CEO Coalition are not subject to rigorous analysis and risk
implementing policies which restrict fundamental rights and asked for
reassurances that such policies will not be accepted by the
European Commission within the context of the CEO Coalition without a
full analysis of both legality and respect for fundamental rights of
European citizens.

The answer received from the European Commission on 8 October 2012 did not specifically clarify the EC position vis-à-vis the CEO Coalition and
stated that they are committed to evidence-based policy:
“EU-Kids Online (which we continue to fund) is one key element, but
other sources including inputs from NGOs and from monitoring agreements
such as the SNS Principles were also instrumental in defining the
specific actions for the CEO Coalition – bearing in mind that these
focused on short term goals where progress could be expected to
be made. Our policies as reflected in the Communication on making a
better internet for children are much wider than the work of the CEO
Coalition and we trust that under Connecting Europe Facility – subject
to positive decision in the context of the Multiannual Financial
Framework negotiations – we will continue to maintain a strong focus on
research and evidence building.”

EDRi Letter to Commissioner Kroes (3.09.2012)

Answer from European Commission on EDRi letter (8.10.2012)

EDRi-gram: The rise of the European upload filter (20.06.2012)

CEO Coalition to make the Internet a better place for kids (14.03.2012)