European Commission must have greater ambition in combating sexual violence

Last year, the European Commission made a far-reaching proposal to protect children against sexual violence. But a study by Delft University shows that there is a lot wrong with the substantiation of the proposal.

By Bits of Freedom (guest author) · March 1, 2023

Alternative facts

Last year, the European Commission made a far-reaching proposal to protect children against sexual violence. This is a shocking problem precisely because children and young people are so incredibly vulnerable. The Delft university investigated a number of statements by the European Commission that it made in support of its proposal. The study shows that three of the six arguments are incorrect (or “fake news” or “alternative facts” or whatever you want to call it). One of the other statements is not sufficiently substantiated. The remaining two are true, or at least plausible. That is disconcertingly poor support for a proposal that might potentially break down the confidentiality of communication on the internet.

Time-traveling is (still) impossible

The problem of sexual abuse of children is so serious that it requires proven effective and legally sustainable measures even more than other issues might. After all, we can only use our energy once. For example, if we use police capacity on something that is not at the heart of the problem, then that capacity is wasted. There is no way to go back in time and redirect that capacity if it turns out that we misunderstood the problem. This makes it essential to base legislative interventions on facts. It is of course possible that we lack factual information, but then that should also be fully understood. Because proposing measures based on a misrepresentation of facts is downright harmful.

Distortion of facts

Moreover, the damage will only increase if those measures infringe our fundamental rights. After all, that is what the European Commission wants to do by breaking down end-to-end encryption. One of the claims the European Commission makes is that material with sexual abuse of children is being shared less on websites, and increasingly in chats. These chats are encrypted in such a way that no one but the sender and recipient can read the messages (end-to-end). That is why the legislator wants to force platforms to look over the shoulders of their users. However, the very premise that more material is shared via chats is insufficiently substantiated, according to the researchers. Such harsh surveillance measures cannot truly be justified anyway, but it is even worse if it happens based on distorted facts.

Fact-based interventions

We believe the fight against child sexual abuse is important just as much as everyone else. But it’s vital that we focus on proven effective measures that are legally sustainable. Measures that are mainly aimed at preventing the abuse, tracing the perpetrators and appropriate help for victims. We should not put a disproportionate effort into limiting the spread of sexual abuse material that has already occurred. Instead, we should focus on measures that leave everyone’s fundamental rights intact. And basing all those interventions on facts is essential. That may be ambitious, but the nature of the problem demands nothing less.

The article was first published by Bits of Freedom here.
The translation was provided for by Celeste Vervoort

Contribution by: Rejo Zenger, Policy Advisor, EDRi member, Bits of Freedom