German Presidency: G7 countries support EU policy on chat control

In Eltville in November, the G7 interior ministers want to put pressure on internet companies to use filter technologies to detect sexual abuse and grooming of children. The driver is Great Britain, which is leading the way with a new law. Encryption is also affected.

On May 11, 2022, the EU Commission presented its proposal for a regulation to combat child abuse. This contains numerous obligations for Internet service providers, including measures to assess and minimize the risk of the spread of sexual abuse and grooming. If this risk is assessed as „high,“ authorities can issue so-called detection orders. Companies must then deploy filtering technologies that, as it stands now, will also block out encrypted communications.

The proposal, which the Commission drafted after repeated requests from the Council of 27 EU member states, will be discussed for the first time at the informal Justice and Home Affairs Council in Prague on Monday. In the Internet civil society, the plan, dubbed „chat control,“ is facing widespread opposition. The EU governments are now getting support from the G7 countries, whose heads of government addressed the issue at their summit in Elmau a week ago. Under the German G7 presidency, the interior ministers were subsequently tasked with taking measures.

Detection „alongside end-to-end encryption“

The conference of the G7 interior ministers is scheduled to take place from November 16 to 18 in the southern Hessian „wine, sparkling wine and rose city“ of Eltville. Each such specialist meeting ends with a declaration. For example, the G7 digital ministers, led by Federal Minister Volker Wissing, already announced on May 11 that they want to improve online security and reduce „illegal and harmful content and activity on the Internet“. Platform providers „and other relevant stakeholders“ are urged to expand voluntary measures.

The digital ministers want companies to continue the cooperation begun under the U.K.’s G7 presidency. The British government had the G7 interior ministers adopt an „Action Plan to combat Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse“ last September. In it, they call for „innovation to advance the solutions available“.

Providers are also to detect and report child sexual exploitation and abuse „alongside end-to-end encryption.“ The wording suggests that so-called Client Side Scanning (CSS) is favored. Shortly before, Apple had announced the introduction of such a method, but temporarily withdrew this after protests.

German government wants to hold companies „more accountable“

So far, the G7 action plan does not include an obligation for online service providers to detect and/or remove content on their platforms. This could change after the G7 interior ministers in November, chaired by Federal Minister Nancy Faeser, also follow up on this.

This is because, as part of the preparations for the meeting in Eltville, they are examining how companies „can be made more accountable for the detection and/or removal of content on their communication platforms.“ This is what the German Ministry of the Interior writes in its answer to a parliamentary question by MP Alexander Ulrich.

According to the statement, preventing the dissemination of child and youth pornographic content is a „top priority“ for the German government. Cooperation with online service providers plays an important role in this.

British Home Secretary tightens up draft legislation

Britain, meanwhile, has shifted up a gear. In a draft bill on online safety, companies will be required to use technology to detect content involving child sexual abuse and exploitation. This was announced by British Home Secretary Priti Patel the day before yesterday. Accordingly, an existing clause in the bill is to be tightened even further.

Media reports indicate that the communications regulator Ofcom, which is to monitor the implementation of the law, is also considering Client Side Scanning. The law would allow Ofcom to require the use of „accredited technology.“ Failure to comply could result in fines of up to 10% of a company’s annual global revenue.

The draft will be discussed in a committee of deputies next week. Following a successful vote in parliament, the law is expected to come into force at the beginning of 2023 at the latest. The British data regulator, among others, had taken a stand against the plans. According to this, strong encryption of communications increases online safety for children by reducing their exposure to threats such as blackmail.

Image: The president of the EU Commission also attended the G7 summit under the German presidency (German government).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.