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“Denunciation machine”: European Parliament approves electronic mass surveillance of e-mails and messages


08 Dec 2020


Justice & Home Affairs

Brussels, 8 December 2020 - Yesterday, the LIBE Committee of the European Parliament voted in favour of a dangerous derogation from the ePrivacy directive. The Parliament accepted a total and unparalleled scanning of all electronic communications. A catastrophe for digital rights and the protection of data and privacy in the European Union (EU) under the pretext of child protection. The European Pirates Delegation (PPEU) in the Greens/EFA Group strongly condemn the derogation.

“It is scary that corporations like Facebook and Google will act as deputy sheriffs. They will be able to analyse our private electronic communications comprehensively in the absence of any suspicion,” says Patrick Breyer. The German Member of the European Parliament for the Pirate Party is a shadow rapporteur for the proposal and underlines its counterproductive nature: “This way you don’t reach channels used by organised criminals. Meanwhile, this denunciation machine will wrongfully incriminate thousands of people of crimes. Child sexual abuse victims deserve effective support rather than disproportionate laws that will be annulled in court. They deserve safe channels for consultation and help instead of being subjected to mass surveillance.”

The ePrivacy derogation is to allow providers to monitor the content of private electronic communications to search for possible child pornographic content. It was proposed by the European Commission on 10 September 2020 and creates a temporary exception from Directive 2002/58/EC. The proposal claims to allow international telecommunication providers and corporations to automatically scan private communication channels such as e-mails, messaging and chat services. Algorithms are supposed to find child pornographic content or “suspicious approaches” of adults to children. 

“Sounds insane? That’s because it is” 

“It is the very same thing as if the postal service opened all envelopes and investigated if there is child sexual abuse material inside. Sounds insane? That's because it is,” comments Marcel Kolaja, Pirate MEP and Vice-President of the European Parliament. “Restricting the scope of mass surveillance to videos and pictures will not protect people’s privacy either, since there is nothing such as partial privacy. In the end, all communications would have to be monitored. A conversation should be monitored only on an individual basis in case of a court order,” Kolaja adds.

The Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) voted in favour of the proposal yesterday. Presumably, the derogation can come into effect in the first quarter of 2021 after the results of the upcoming trilogue meetings have been adopted by the European Council and the European Parliament. The first trilogue meeting is already scheduled in December. With another proposal in 2021, the Commission plans to make filtering private communications of customers mandatory for all providers. “We fully support the protection of children. We cannot support, however, breaching the privacy of innocent people,” concludes Marcel Kolaja.

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