EU Strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse

5Rights Foundation welcomes the Commission’s initiative to implement an EU strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse. With children comprising 1 in 3 internet users globally, and indications that the Covid-19 pandemic has increased digital technology use by children, the need for an effective and urgent strategy to tackle child sexual abuse online has only grown.  

Key proposals from the strategy include:  

1. Ensure complete implementation of current legislation related to child sexual abuse.  

The EU adopted the Child Sexual Abuse Directive in 2011 to establish minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and sanctions related to the sexual exploitation of children and related materials covering prevention, investigation, prosecution, and assistance to and protection of victims. In particular, we note the strategy’s acknowledgement that more work is needed in the area of prevention.  

2. Propose necessary legislation to ensure that providers of electronic communications services can continue their current voluntary practices to detect in their systems child sexual abuse and by requiring online service providers to detect known child sexual abuse material and require them to report that material to public authorities.  

A robust legislative framework for digital services, as part of the Digital Services Act will clarify and upgrade liability and safety rules for digital services. We note the Commission’s consideration of the need to remove disincentives for voluntary actions to address illegal and harmful content.  

3. Identify legislative gaps, best practices and priority to fight CSEA online and offline.  

Significant technological changes and the exponential growth of online sharing means that it is easier than ever for perpetrators to make contact with children and share images of abuse. An understanding of how platform providers are risky-by-design and employ persuasive design is essential in identifying legislative gaps and best practices to tackling CSEA online. 

4. Complete an expert process to map possible technical solutions to detect and report CSEA in end-to-end encrypted electronic communications. 

Despite numerous calls from child protection experts, Facebook plans to implement end-to-end encryption by default across its messaging platforms. In 2019, Facebook accounted for almost 16 million reports of CSEA material to NCMEC (94% of the total) and end-to-end encryption will drastically decrease the number of reports it is able to make by as much as two-thirds. As such, the need for technical solutions to detect and report CSEA in end-to-end encrypted electronic communications is urgent should platforms like Facebook continue with their plans.  

Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, has said:  

“Child abuse and sexual abuse online is a repulsive crime. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the problem.  

Today I can announce we will propose legislation to require online platforms to detect and report sharing of this illegal content.  

We will also look into the possible creation of a new European centre to prevent and counter child sexual abuse so that Europe can continue to lead in fighting abuse**.”  

About 5Rights Foundation 

5Rights Foundation exists to make systemic changes to the digital world to ensure it caters for children and young people, by design and default. We advocate for enforceable regulation that allow children and young people to thrive online. We develop technical standards to help businesses redesign their digital services with children and young people in mind. We propose policy and conduct research across our four priority areas: Design of Service,  Child Online Protection,  Children and Young People’s Rights, and Data Literacy