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Fighting child sexual abuse online: What EU measures exist? 

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The European Parliament wants to establish effective rules to prevent and combat online child sexual abuse while protecting people's privacy.

The proliferation of online materials of children engaging or appearing to engage in a sexual act has been on the rise, particularly of materials depicting younger children. In 2022, there were more than 32 million reports of suspected online child sexual abuse, marking a historic high.

Updating EU legislation on child sexual abuse

The EU has adopted a strategy on combating child sexual abuse. As part of this commitment, the European Commission aims to update the existing rules from 2011. In November 2023, Parliament’s civil liberties committee adopted a report on the proposal for a regulation aiming to prevent and combat child sexual abuse.

Find out more about what the European Parliament does to protect children.

Safeguarding privacy

The European Parliament wants to strike a balance between safeguarding children in the digital sphere and upholding fundamental rights such as the right to privacy. MEPs’ position on the new rules does not endorse widespread web scanning, blanket monitoring of private communications or the creation of backdoors in apps to weaken encryption.

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Providers’ duties: Risk assessment and mitigation

According to the proposed legislation, providers of hosting or interpersonal communication services will be obliged to perform a risk assessment of the potential presence of sexual content involving children on their services. Once the providers have identified the level of risk, they must implement mitigation measures to address it.

The regulation provides an extensive list of potential mitigation measures that providers can opt to implement. These include the principle of safety by design (developing products or services in a way that avoids potential harm), mandatory parental controls, the establishment of user reporting mechanisms, and the use of age verification systems when there is a risk of child solicitation.

The regulation also introduces specific mandatory mitigation measures for services directly targeting children, platforms primarily used for the dissemination of pornographic content, and certain chat services within games.

Service providers will have the autonomy to choose the technologies they will use to fulfil their detection obligations. The rules foresee a simplified procedure for smaller businesses.

Detection orders as a measure of last resort

If providers fail to meet their obligations, a judicial authority would be able to issue a detection order only as a last resort. This order would compel the provider to employ certain technologies to detect known and new child sexual abuse material.

Detection orders would only be used if there was reasonable suspicion that individual users or groups are linked to child sexual abuse material. The orders would be time-limited, with end-to-end encrypted communication and text messages excluded from their scope. This approach aims to ensure that the privacy and security of users of digital services are maintained.

Support for victims and survivors

The proposal includes the establishment of an EU Centre for Child Protection. The centre would receive, filter, assess, and forward reports of child sexual abuse content to competent national authorities and Europol. It would also support national authorities, conduct investigations and issue fines.

The Commission’s proposal includes specific rights for victims to request information on online material depicting them and the right to request the removal of this content. Parliament expands these rights to include the right to receive support and assistance from the EU Centre for Child Protection as well as authorities at the national level.

Next steps

In November 2023, Parliament adopted its negotiating mandate for the new law on fighting and preventing child sexual abuse online, This will form the basis for negotiations with EU countries to determine the final text of the regulation.

Read more on what the EU does to create a safer internet.

Combating child sexual abuse online 

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