Press release

Pirates call for an end to voluntary #ChatControl by big tech

Now that the EU plans for mandatory screening of private communications and undermining secure encryption (chat control 2.0) have been put on ice for the time being due to a lack of majority in the EU Council, last week the European Parliaments‘s socialist chief negotiator Birgit Sippel proposed to agree to extending the existing voluntary chat control regime with the exception of grooming detection algorithms. Pirate Party Member of the European Parliament and most prominent opponent of chat control Patrick Breyer, who is also his group’s lead negotiator, submitted amendments last night on behalf of his group. According to these amendments, voluntary chat controls should expire as they violate fundamental rights. This is confirmed by several legal opinions, including the alternative impact assessment of the EPRS, the Council Legal Service and a study by former ECJ judge Ninon Colneric.

So far, legislation to authorise the indiscriminate searching of private messages sent via Instagram Messenger, Facebook Messenger, GMail and XBox for suspected content, as practised by US companies such as Meta, Google and Microsoft, is limited until 3 August 2024. Breyer comments:

“Instead of taking up the EU Parliament’s new approach for more effective and court-proof child protection without chat control mass surveillance, EU Commissioner ‘Big Sister’ Johansson is incorrigibly insisting in the destruction of digital privacy of correspondence, playing for time and hoping to manipulate critical EU states into agreeing by running infamous campaigns and spreading misinformation. This approach has gotten us into deadlock politically, failing children and abuse victims alike. We should clearly reject this strategy and insist on finding better solutions than mass surveillance, as proposed by the European Parliament last year.”

Breyer strongly criticises the instrument of voluntary chat control: “The voluntary mass surveillance of our private communication by US services such as Meta, Google or Microsoft does not make any significant contribution to saving abused children or convicting abusers, but conversely criminalises thousands of minors, overburdens law enforcement officers and opens the door to arbitrary private justice by internet companies. If, according to Johansson’s own statements, only one in four flagged conversations are relevant to the police at all, this means 75,000 leaked intimate beach photos and nude pictures for Germany every year, which are not safe with unknown moderators abroad and do not belong in their hands.”

“The EU regulation on voluntary chat control is both unnecessary and contrary to fundamental rights: social networks as hosting services do not need a regulation to check public posts. The same applies to suspicious activity reports by users. And the error-prone automated reports that result of machine screening of private communications by Zuckerberg’s Meta Group, which account for 80% of chat messages, will end anyway due to the imminent introduction of end-to-end encryption to Meta‘s Messenger services. The legal opinion of a former ECJ judge demonstrates that voluntary chat monitoring is an indiscriminate surveillance measure that violates fundamental rights. A victim of child sexual abuse and I are taking legal action against thi.[4]”

The Committee on Home Affairs (LIBE) is expected to approve the extension of voluntary chat controls on 29 January. The Parliament wants to reach an agreement with the Council in the second week of February, and the extension should be approved shortly afterwards.

Meanwhile, the EU interior ministers are to vote again in March on the introduction of mandatory chat control 2.0 for all providers, according to the Belgian Presidency‘s planning.

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