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ENDitorial: Global alliance against CP – no disconnect with reality?

19 December, 2012

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: ENDitorial: Globale Allianz gegen Kinderpornographie – Wunsch und Wi...

Two and a half years ago, European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström proposed compulsory EU-wide Internet blocking because some countries, with the USA as the chief offender, left child abuse material online rather than removing it. Last week, the same Commissioner launched the “Global Alliance against Child Pornography (CP)” after this had been proposed by the United States.

Since the initial blocking proposal, there have been many worrying developments with regard to failures in online child protection. Within Europe, the European Commission has been repeatedly forced to admit that it has no proper statistics about what is happening in the EU, despite having spent millions on “safer Internet” projects for years. In response to one parliamentary question, the Commission had to admit (despite having financed the EU's hotline and notice and takedown system) to having no data regarding “investigations and/or prosecutions for either publishing child abuse material online or accessing such material in the European Union” and no usable data at all from the Internet child abuse hotlines that it has financed for most of the past decade.

At the same time, the European Commission has seen neighbouring countries developing repressive strategies which use “child protection” as a justification. Turkey used “voluntary” measures to circumvent the state's own legal obligations. ISPs are forced to implement blocking systems, with the blocking lists being prepared by a non-independent committee. We can expect that Turkey's reaction to the Chamber Judgement of 18 December 2012 from the European Court of Human Rights to be a stronger reliance on EU-style “voluntary measures” rather than an attempt to bring their practices into line with its legal obligations. Similarly, Russia has introduced a wide-ranging blocking and censorship system which is leading to a wide range of unquestionably legal and safe material being blocked.

Absurdly and unconscionably, we have also seen Interpol, an organisation which is supposed to represent almost every police force in the world, devote resources to maintaining a “worst of the worst” child abuse Internet blocking list. Instead of resources being put into their own members removing and investigating the worst of the worst child abuse websites, Interpol chooses to put its time and money into supporting a policy which is only superficial and has never been shown to have any particular benefit.

After the banning of child abuse material by the UN Child Rights Convention... and its re-banning by the Optional Convention to the Child Rights Convention and then re-banning it again in the Council of Europe Cybercrime Convention... after the promises made by the Stockholm Declaration and the Agenda for Action, the promises made by the Council of Europe Lanzarote Convention, members of the Global Alliance take a solemn and non-legally binding and non-enforceable promise to take real action to protect children online. Maybe they will. We can certainly hope so. However, what else does the Alliance propose? Well, nothing actually binding or enforceable, in keeping with the spirit of all international agreements on child protection.

Some of the rather coded proposals are worrying: a) “Encourage participation by the private sector in identifying and removing known child pornography material located in the relevant State, including increasing as much as possible the volume of system data examined for child pornography images;”

The creation and making available of child abuse material are crimes – it is not the task of industry to investigate and prosecute crimes. It is not the task of the private sector to identify “child pornography” - this is a task for law enforcement authorities, in cooperation with the courts. It is not the task of private industry to examine “system data” in relation to child abuse images. This is a task for law enforcement authorities. Neither the EU, nor the US has any published statistical data regarding law enforcement follow-up on, for example, websites that have been removed as voluntary action.

b) “Evaluate whether, according to domestic law, there are any impediments to the participation of the private sector to identify and eliminate known child pornography images, and adopt the necessary legislative amendments”

The European Union and United States are urging countries around the world, such as Russia and Turkey, to change the law in order to ensure that it is legally possible for private companies to monitor uploads to the Internet in order to check that citizens are acting illegally. Formally recognising such an intrusive and arbitrary surveillance of citizens by private companies comes with huge costs for human rights and the rule of law across the world. The cost of such an approach could be catastrophic in terms of human rights. The cost is huge, so what is the benefit? The wanton negligence of this approach is shown by the fact that neither the EU, nor US knows, because existing measures have never been assessed for effectiveness.

Recently, however, there was a pilot project in the Netherlands. Thanks to a freedom of information request by EDRi member Bits of Freedom, we know that the Dutch police came to the conclusion that such filtering is of “negligible” benefit. So, once again, after all of the promises of the past, we have another policy that is much worse than useless – child protection remains neglected, with immense damage to civil rights globally.

c) “Increase the speed of notice and takedown procedures as much as possible without jeopardizing criminal investigations.” As previously mentioned, the European Commission has said that it has no statistical information at its disposal regarding the current speed of takedown of child abuse material. So, what does “increase the speed” mean when you have absolutely no idea of what the speed currently is?

And it gets worse - at the launch of the event, the United States Attorney General identified the widespread use of Microsoft's PhotoDNA as a target in the context of the Global Alliance. He supported the use – outside the rule of law – of PhotoDNA as a mass filtering technology to check every upload from every Internet user, in case it contains previously-identified child abuse material.

Microsoft has not been able to point to any independent testing of PhotoDNA's accuracy in any of our conversations with them. Microsoft has not said whether PhotoDNA has been subject to any robustness testing. Microsoft has not been able to say if law enforcement authorities even bother to access the log files of apparent uploads. But at least it sounds good. And EU and US support for arbitrary mass filtering of communications – outside the rule of law - will sound wonderful to our International “partners” who are increasingly finding that exploiting child exploitation is an effective way of minimising international condemnation of restrictions on privacy and freedom of communication.

Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the Global Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Online Ministerial (5.12.2012)

EDRi-gram: Russian bill creates blacklist of websites (18.06.2012)

Russia's Controversial Internet Law Causing Collateral Damage (19.12.2012)

Interpol - Access Blocking

ECHR chamber judgement on Internet blocking in Turkey (18.12.2012)

Guiding principles on the global alliance against child pornography (5.12.2012)

Dutch pilot project (only in Dutch, 13.12.2012)

(Contribution by Joe McNamee - EDRi)



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