Facebook-funded “child protection” event turns into privacy bashing

By EDRi · April 24, 2013

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [Facebooks „Kinderschutz“-Veranstaltung führt zur Demontage des Datenschutzes |]

On 11 April 2013, a conference on the global fight against online child
sexual abuse content took place at the European Parliament.
It was organised by the Internet Watch Foundation, with the support of
Facebook. The topic was the rather uncontroversial topic of cooperation
in the fight against online child abuse content.

Speakers from Europe, Asia, America and Africa reflected on how to make
the Internet a safe place for children, which measures have already been
taken and what are the next steps in this fight going to be. Everyone
agreed that in order to go further in the global fight against online
child sexual abuse an increasing awareness on this problem is needed as
well as common (but not harmonised as they assumed it will be
impossible) definitions of “minor” and “abuse” and a major international
cooperation. The fact that the Internet Watch Foundation (or the vast
majority of hotlines funded by the European Commission) has failed to
produce useful statistics on the scale of the problem and current
trends, appeared to be of little concern.

After all speakers explained their work and achievements in child online
protection, a series of questions were asked by both the moderator, the
technology reporter Kate Russell, and the audience. Throughout the two
questions sessions, data protection and privacy were characterised as a
major obstacle to fighting online child abuse. Although there was a
complete lack of debate on this question, speakers did make some
striking statements. Emma McClarkin MEP said that when online child
protection was discussed in the European Parliament and Commission, she
was “shocked” about the existence of controversy on this topic as she
thought that everyone would agree with the need to protect children and
that in order to make the internet a safer place for them every existing
tools should be use, “even blocking”.

Without addressing key child protection concerns like effective use of
available resources and possible counter-productive effects of knee-jerk
reactions, Ms. McClarkin declared that she didn’t understand the opinion
of organisations defending data protection and privacy as in this
particular issue we need “to forget about the technology tools and think
about the victims”. She went further adding that digital protection
associations were acting against child protection as they don’t realise
how important the problem is and that the focus should not be on data
protection but on “the need to protect children from themselves”.

In this attack against digital rights organisations, she was joined by
the Senior Specialist with the European Cyber Crime Centre, Jean-Charles
Schweitzer, who was completely shocked to hear the “P-word” as “there is
no such thing as privacy involved in fighting child abuse”. Simon
Milner, Director of Policy in Facebook for the UK and Ireland, was next
on this one way conversation explaining that Facebook wants “the world
to be safe” and understands the concern on privacy but didn’t really
know why his company was receiving criticism from people defending
privacy and data protection because it uses data to identify dubious
behaviours. Finally, in his intervention, he talked about the efficiency
of the Microsoft and Dartmouth College technology, “PhotoDNA”, without
providing us with any data or concrete achievement.
Cornelia Kutterer, director of the EU Institutions Relations at
Microsoft then explained that, thanks to this tool, they were convinced
that they were protecting privacy as it protects children’s privacy.

Evidence? Effectiveness? Proportionality? All unnecessary? Privacy for
children is apparently unnecessary when most abuse is carried out by a
caregiver or someone that the child knows and lack of privacy can mean
lack of an escape route? The “experts” believe none of this is
necessary. Funded by Facebook.

Link to the Conference agenda with the name of all speakers (11.04.2013)

(Contribution by Estelle Massé (EDRi Intern) and Joe McNamee – EDRi)