European Commission must uphold privacy, security and free expression by withdrawing new law, say civil society
In May, the European Commission proposed a new law: the CSA Regulation. If passed, this law would turn the internet into a space that is dangerous for everyone’s privacy, security and free expression. EDRi is one of 134 organisations calling instead for tailored, effective, rights-compliant and technically-feasible alternatives to tackle this grave issue.
"When you fundamentally undermine how the internet works, you make it less safe for everyone. If passed, this law will turn the internet into a space that is dangerous for everyone’s privacy, security and free expression. This includes the very children that the legislation aims to protect."
EDRi is one of 134 civil society organisations and professional bodies in writing to the European Commission with a strong demand: “European Commission: uphold privacy, security and free expression by withdrawing new law“. We caution EU politicians and governments that when you fundamentally undermine how the internet works, you make it less safe for everyone.
The 134 signatories of this letter are made up of a broad range of groups working across human rights – including the digital rights of adults and young people; the protection of journalists and media freedom; lawyers; whistle-blowers; gender justice; democracy and peace; workers; children’s health, and more. We share a commitment to protecting online privacy, security and freedom of expression for everyone (including children) globally.
These rights allow us to do our jobs, raise our voices and hold power to account without arbitrary intrusion, persecution or repression. These rights are also important for providing confidential support to survivors, for developing our autonomy and sense of self, and for accessing and enjoying almost all our other human and civil rights.
The signatories of the letter warn that the European Commission’s proposed CSA Regulation is likely to do far more harm than good. In the important fight against child sexual abuse and exploitation, we support measures that are targeted, effective and proportionate. Many of us have previously spoken out about how to ensure that measures to keep children safe online are done according to existing human rights, the rule of law, and due process frameworks. In our work, we have direct experience of how such rules and principles are essential to uphold democracy, access to justice and the presumption of innocence.
Unfortunately, we do not believe that such measures are to be found in the proposed legislation. In fact, the proposal relies on technologies that are not able to do what the Regulation claims, and instead will attack encrypted communications, open internet spaces and online anonymity. That’s why we want the Commission to do better to tackle this critically-important issue in a way that respects privacy, security and free expression.
Read the full letter:
Dear European Commissioners,
When you fundamentally undermine how the internet works, you make it less safe for everyone.
We write to you as 134 civil society and professional (trade union) organisations working across human rights, media freedom, technology and democracy in the digital age. Collectively, we call on you to withdraw the ‘Regulation laying down rules to prevent and combat child sexual abuse’ (CSA Regulation) and to pursue an alternative which is compatible with EU fundamental rights.
It is not possible to have private and secure communications whilst building in direct access for governments and companies. This will also open the door for all types of malicious actors. It is not possible to have a safe internet infrastructure which promotes free expression and autonomy if internet users can be subjected to generalised scanning and filtering, and denied anonymity.
The proposed CSA Regulation has made a political decision to consider scanning and surveillance technologies safe despite widespread expert opinion to the contrary. If passed, this law will turn the internet into a space that is dangerous for everyone’s privacy, security and free expression.1 This includes the very children that this legislation aims to protect.
These rules will make social media companies liable for the private messages shared by their users. It will force providers to use risky and inaccurate tools in order to be in control of what all of us are typing and sharing at all times. The Impact Assessment accompanying the proposal encourages companies to deploy Client-Side Scanning to surveil their users despite recognising that service providers will be reluctant to do so over security concerns. This would constitute an unprecedented attack on our rights to private communications and the presumption of innocence.
It is not just adults that rely on privacy and security. As the United Nations and UNICEF state, online privacy is vital for young people’s development and self-expression, and they should not be subjected to generalised surveillance. The UK Royal College of Psychiatrists highlights that snooping is harmful for children, and that policies based in empowerment and education are more effective.
The CSA Regulation will cause severe harm in a wide variety of ways :
- A child abuse survivor who wants to confide in a trusted adult about their abuse could have their private message flagged, passed on to a social media company employee for review, then to law enforcement to investigate. This could disempower survivors, infringe on their dignity, and strongly disincentivise them from taking steps to seek help at their own pace;
- Whistleblowers and sources wanting to anonymously share stories of government corruption would no longer be able to trust online communications services, as end-to-end encryption would be compromised. Efforts to hold power to account would become much more difficult;
- A young-looking adult lawfully sending intimate pictures to their partner could have those highly-personal images mistakenly flagged by the AI tools, revealed to a social media employee, and then passed on to law enforcement;
- These inevitable false flags will over-burden law enforcement who already lack the resources to deal with existing cases. This would allocate their limited capacities towards sifting through huge volumes of lawful communications, instead of deleting abuse material and pursuing investigations into suspects and perpetrators;
- Secure messenger service (like Signal) would be forced to technically alter their services, with users unable to access secure alternatives. This would put anyone that relies on them at risk: lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders, NGO workers (including those who help victims), governments and more. If the service wanted to keep its messages secure, it would be fined 6% of its global turnover; or would be forced to withdraw from the EU market;
- By undermining the end-to-end encryption that journalists rely on to communicate securely with sources, the regulation will also seriously jeopardise source protection, weaken digital security for journalists and have a severe chilling effect on media freedom;
- Once this technology has been implemented, governments around the world could pass laws forcing companies to scan for evidence of political opposition, of activism, of labour unions that are organising, of people seeking abortions in places where it is criminalised, or any other behaviours that a government wants to suppress.
- These threats pose an even greater risk to disenfranchised, persecuted and marginalised groups around the world.
In recent years, the EU has fought to be a beacon of the human rights to privacy and data protection, setting a global standard. But with the proposed CSA Regulation, the European Commission has signalled a U-turn towards authoritarianism, control, and the destruction of online freedom. This will set a dangerous precedent for mass surveillance around the world.
In order to protect free expression, privacy and security online, we the undersigned 129 organisations call on you as the College of Commissioners to withdraw this Regulation.
We call instead for tailored, effective, rights-compliant and technically feasible alternatives to tackle the grave issue of child abuse. Any such approaches must respect the EU Digital Decade commitment to a “safe and secure” digital environment for everyone – and that includes children.
- 5th of July Foundation – Sweden
- Access Now – International
- Agora Association – Turkey
- AlgoRace – Spain/ Europe
- Alternatif Bilisim (AiA-Alternative Informatics Association) – International
- APADOR-CH – Romania
- ApTI Romania – Romania
- ArGE Tübingen – Germany
- ARTICLE 19 – International
- Aspiration – United States
- Associação Nacional para o Software Livre (ANSOL) – Portugal
- Associação Portuguesa para a Promoção da Segurança da Informação (AP2SI) – Europe
- Association for Support of Marginalized Workers STAR-STAR Skopje – Republic of North Macedonia
- Attac Austria – Austria
- Aufstehn.at – Austria
- Austrian Chamber of Labour – Austria
- Berlin Strippers Collective – Germany
- Big Brother Watch – United Kingdom
- Bits of Freedom – Netherlands
- Bündnis für humane Bildung – Germany
- Center for Civil and Human Rights (Poradňa) – Slovakia
- Center for Democracy & Technology – Europe
- Centrum Cyfrowe – Europe
- Chaos Computer Club – Germany
- Citizen D / Državljan D – Slovenia
- Civil Liberties Union for Europe – Europe
- CloudPirat – Germany
- Committee to Protect Journalists – EU/International
- COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain – Europe
- comun.al – Latin America
- Council of European Informatics Societies (CEPIS) – Europe
- D3 Defesa dos Direitos Digitais – Portugal
- D64 – Zentrum für Digitalen Fortschritt – Germany
- Danes je nov – Slovenia
- Dataföreningen västra kretsen (The Swedish Computer Society) – Sweden
- Dataskydd.net – Sweden
- Defend Democracy – International
- Defend Digital Me – United Kingdom
- Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25) – Europe
- Deutsche Vereinigung für Datenschutz (DVD) – Germany
- DFRI – Sweden
- Digital Advisor– The Nederlands
- Digital Rights Ireland – Ireland
- Digitalcourage – Germany
- Digitale Gesellschaft – Germany
- Digitale Gesellschaft / Digital Society – Switzerland
- Electronic Frontier Finland – Finland
- Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) – United States
- Elektronisk Forpost Norge (EFN) – Norway
- epicenter.works for digital rights – Austria
- Equipo Decenio Afrodescendiente – Spain
- ESOP Associação de Empresas de Software Open Source Portuguesas – Portugal
- Eticas Foundation – International
- European Center for Not-For-Profit Law (ECNL) – Europe
- European Digital Rights (EDRi) – Europe
- European Sex Workers’ Rights Alliance (ESWA) – Europe and Central Asia
- Fight for the Future – US/International
- Fitug e.V. – Germany
- Free Software Foundation Europe – European
- Fundación Karisma – Colombia
- GAT – Grupo de Ativistas em Tratamentos – Portugal
- Gesellschaft für Bildung und Wissen e.V. – Germany
- Gesellschaft für Informatik / German Informatics Society (GI) – Germany/EU
- Global Forum for Media Development – International
- Hermes Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights – Italy
- Homo Digitalis – Greece
- Human Rights House Zagreb – Croatia
- imaniti.org – Czech Republic
- iNGO European Media Platform – Europe
- Institute of Communication Studies – Republic of Macedoni
- International Press Institute (IPI) – International
- Internet Governance Project – International
- Internet Society – International
- Internet Society Catalan Chapter (ISOC-CAT) – Europe
- Interpeer gUG (gemeinnützig) – Europe
- Irish Council for Civil Liberties – Ireland
- ISOC Brazil – Brazilian Chapter of the Internet Society – Brazil
- ISOC Portugal Chapter – Portugal
- ISOC UK England – UK
- IT-Pol – Denmark
- Iuridicum Remedium, z.s – Czech Republic
- JAKKLAC iniciativa – Latin America
- La Quadrature du Net – France
- Legal Legion (loyalty) NPO – Cyprus
- Ligue des droits humains –Belgium
- LOAD e.V. – Germany
- Lobby4kids – Kinderlobby– Austria
- Medienkompetenz Team e.V. – Deutschland
- MetaGer, SUMA-EV – German
- National Ugly Mugs (NUM) – United Kingdom
- Netherlands Helsinki Committee – The Netherlands
- Nordic Privacy Center – Nordics
- Norway Chapter of the Internet Society – Norway
- Norwegian Unix User Group – Norway
- Open Knowledge Foundation – International
- Open Rights Group – United Kingdom
- Österreichischer Rechtsanwaltskammertag – Austria
- Panoptykon Foundation – Poland
- Peace Institute – Slovenia
- PIC Amsterdam – Netherlands
- Platform Burgerrechten – The Netherlands
- Presseclub Concordia – Austria
- Privacy First – Netherlands
- Privacy International – International
- quintessenz – Verein zur Wiederherstellung der Bürgerrechte im Informationszeitalter – Austria
- Ranking Digital Rights – International
- Red Umbrella – Sweden
- SaveTheInternet – Europe
- SekswerkExpertise – Netherlands
- Sex Workers Alliance Ireland –Ireland
- Sex Workers’ Empowerment Network – Greece
- Social Media Exchange – Middle East and North Africa (MENA)
- StatewatchEU – Europe
- Stichting Stop Online Shaming – the Netherlands
- Stowarzyszenie Nasze Imaginarium – Poland
- SZEXE – Association of Hungarian Sex-Workers – Hungary
- Teckids e.V. – Germany
- The Civil Affairs Institute (Instytut Spraw Obywatelskich) – Poland
- The Commoners – Spain
- The Document Foundation – Global
- The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) – International
- The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) – Europe
- The Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) – UK/Europe
- The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project – S.T.O.P. – United States
- Voices4 Berlin – International
- Vrijschrift.org – The Netherlands
- West Africa ICT Action Network – Liberia / West Africa
- Whistleblower-Netzwerk – Germany
- Whose Knowledge? – International
- Wikimedia – International
- Wikimedia Deutschland e.V. – Germany
- Women’s Link Worldwide –Europe
- WorkerInfoExchange –International
- Xnet – Spain
You can still add your organisation’s signature to the open letter by filling out this form.
This letter is intended for groups / organisations. Are you an individual wanting to express your opposition to the CSA Regulation? You can now sign the people’s petition here.
Please note that this letter was originally published on 8 June 2022 with 73 signatories. As new signatories are added on a rolling basis, it will be updated periodically to reflect the new count as well as the additional organisations that have signed on. As of 26 April 2023, the new total is 134 signatories.