Romania: CSA Regulation will make journalistic investigations of child abuse impossible
The back door to people’s private communications that only the authorities can access is a mythical creature that lives in the imagination of those dismissing the consequences of malware, spyware attacks and software exploits. Experts and affected people have spoken up about the dangers of creating a back door to secure communication even if it is to be accessed only by police and security services. The Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) Regulation has revived the age-old debate.
What happens when the authorities abuse their powers?
Let’s learn from the recent cases in Europe. In Romania, people have lived through such an episode as recently as 2022. A journalist critical of national law enforcement bodies woke up to a raid that seized his devices not only from his home, but also from the home of his parents and the newsroom he worked for. The journalist faced false charges of possessing child pornography.
At the beginning of 2022, Alin Cristea, a Romanian journalist writing for a local press newsroom, debraila.ro, published an article criticising the chief of local police in Brăila. As soon as the article went live, the journalist was contacted by a prosecutor of the county level Romanian Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT). The high-standing official tried to persuade the journalist that the chief of Police was an ethical and hard-working person.
Soon after, the police raided the home of journalist Alin Cristea, along with the home of his parents and the debraila.ro newsroom. The premises were searched and Cristea’s electronic devices were confiscated, including all the data he was using in his ongoing journalistic investigation.
DIICOT admitted publicly that they emitted a search warrant and ordered the seizing of Cristea’s devices as part of an ongoing investigation. Because of this the newsroom could not publish the article that Cristea was working on. Several Romanian NGOs, including EDRi-member ApTI, asked for a speedy clarification of the case. Reporters without Borders joined the national NGOs in denouncing the violation of secrecy of journalistic sources by the prosecutor’s office.
The criminal case, opened against Cristea and the debraila.ro newsroom, was based on charges of distributing or possessing child pornography. The newsroom had recently published an alarming material of public interest: the physical assault of a minor. However, the publication carefully protected the identity of the victim.
The Police raid happened at the beginning of 2022, but it wasn’t until November 2022 that the Brăila Local Court decided that the actions initiated by DIICOT against Cristea and the newsroom were unfounded. The Court confirmed that a crime did not occur. Neither the journalist, nor the newsroom, were proven to distribute or possess child sexual abuse material.
Alin Cristea experienced a deeply disturbing abuse of power by law enforcement authorities. By the time the Court decision was published, the confidentiality of his communications and his files had already been compromised. For both journalists and potential whistleblowers such power-abusive actions shake the foundations of freedom of expression.
The EU’s CSA Regulation will make journalistic work impossible
The proposed CSA Regulation would make surveillance of journalists the rule and the protection of their sources impossible.
The European Commission has been continuously dismissing the concerns of civil society, assuring us that the CSA Regulation will create a back door into everybody’s device that only the authorities can access. The memory of law enforcement abuses is fresh and never-ending. The proposed law will put everyone in danger, including journalists working to expose power abuses and wrongdoings.
You can join the EU-wide Stop Scanning Me movement to call on the European Parliament to protect children and everyone else by rejecting the proposed law.
Contrbution by: EDRi member, ApTI
- Longer description of the case in English in Activewatch, Safety of journalists. Public lynching and kompromat – FreeEx Digest no. 1, 20.03.2023
- DIICOT relapses into harassment of journalists (Only in Romanian, 19.01.2022)
- RSF reaction (22.01.2022)
- Court confirms DIICOT Brăila abuse against journalist Alin Cristea and the publication debraila.ro (Only in Romanian, 29.11.2022)