On the 21st of December the European Electronic Communications Code came into force, which widened the scope of the EU’s e-Privacy Directive to include emails and private messaging. The effect has been that technology used by Service Providers to scan messages for child sexual abuse material and patterns of grooming, and which supported takedown of such material and prevented predators from approaching children online, has now become illegal. Several service providers, including Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Roblox and Yubo App, have expressed their commitment to child safety and intention to continue using the technology to take down child sexual abuse material.

The legislation is a massive blow to the fight against online child sexual abuse, in Europe and globally. At a time when the problem is growing exponentially, service providers are an indispensable ally in the fight against sexual abuse online. On a yearly basis, 17 million voluntary reports of CSAM and grooming of children are made to authorities, containing almost 3 million pictures and conversations from the European Union. In 2019, online grooming had tripled on certain social networks, according to NSPCC, and in spring 2020, Europol reported a surge in online distribution of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) due to the COVID-19 crisis.

As child protection organisations we therefore welcomed the European Commission’s Strategy against Child Sexual Abuse, presented on July 24th 2020, which announced the intention to make reporting of online child sexual abuse by internet service providers mandatory. Privacy and child protection can go hand in hand. It is unacceptable that due to the e-Privacy Directive, as of today, children are left unprotected from situations of online grooming and unable to take back control over images graphically depicting their sexual abuse, until that legislation is in place, which could be several years down the line. For these children, the consequences may be life long.

We therefore commend the service providers who continue to uphold existing protections for their courage and encourage all others to do likewise. We insist that the European Parliament, Commission and Council swiftly agree on a temporary exception to enable tech companies to continue their voluntary reporting. In addition, we urge all stakeholders to work swiftly towards long term legislation that makes reporting and takedown of child sexual abuse material and grooming on their platforms mandatory for service providers.

“Every second and every child counts”, said Maud de Boer Buquicchio, President of Missing Children Europe and former UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. “We cannot let privacy law prevail over the need to scan and take down content of abuse of children”

Missing Children EuropeEurochild
Save the ChildrenWomen Against Violence Europe
Alliance for Childhood European Network GroupVictim Support Europe
Child Fund AllianceSOS Children’s Villages Europe
Hope and Homes for ChildrenIFM-SEI
Child Helpline InternationalChildFocus, Belgium
116000 Enfants Disparus, FranceFundacion ANAR, Spain
Smile of the Child, GreeceTelefono Azurro, Italy
Instituto de Apoio à Criança, PortugalFundacja ITAKA
Terre des HommesKaapatut Lapset ry, Finland
Lasten Perusoikudet ry, FinlandAssociaçião Portuguesa de Crianças Desaparecidas
Missing Persons Family Support Ctr, LithuaniaHope for Children
ASTRA, Serbia

This statement is still open to signatories. To support this statement please contact: secretary.general@missingchildreneurope.eu