Google, Meta and other online service providers would be required to find and remove child pornography online under proposed European Commission rules, a move some privacy groups say could put people’s communications at risk.
Companies that fail to comply with the rules face fines of up to 6% of their annual income or global turnover, which will be determined by EU countries.
The EU executive said the proposal, announced on Wednesday, aims to replace existing systems of voluntary identification and reporting by companies that have proven inadequate to protect children.
It cited more than a million reports of child sexual abuse in a bloc of 27 countries in 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic contributing to a 64% increase in such reports in 2021 compared to the previous year. On top of that, 60% of child sexual abuse material worldwide is hosted on EU servers.
“The proposed rules introduce an obligation for relevant online service providers to assess the risk of dissemination of child sexual abuse material or abuse of their services for the solicitation (grooming) of children,” the commission said in a statement.
Companies will then have to report and remove known and new images and videos as well as grooming issues. An EU Center on Child Sexual Abuse will be established to act as a center of expertise and forward reports to the police.
The rules will apply to hosting services and interpersonal communication services such as messaging services, app stores and Internet access providers.
The commission’s proposal could jeopardize end-to-end encryption and open the door to authoritarian surveillance tactics, said lobbying group European Digital Rights.
Meta subsidiary WhatsApp also raised the same concern.
“The proposed EU regulation on the Internet protecting end-to-end encryption is incredibly disappointing,” WhatsApp chief Will Cathcart said in a tweet.
“It is important that any measures adopted do not undermine the end-to-end encryption that protects the safety and privacy of billions of people, including children,” a Meta spokesperson said.
The draft EU rules need to be settled with EU countries and EU lawmakers before they can become law.