European Federation of Journalists

EFJ warns that EU legislation to prevent child abuse online would undermine protection of journalistic sources

The European Commission published on 11 May a proposal to fight against child sexual abuse online. According to the draft regulation, messaging applications would be required to scan all private communications, including encrypted messages. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) is concerned that the legislation could jeopardise the fundamental protection of journalistic sources.

The European Commission’s proposal requires providers of electronic communications services “to detect, report and remove” child sexual abuse on the internet on both “public-facing” and “private interpersonal” communications services.

According to the European Digital Rights (EDRi), the automatic scanning of everyone’s private communications is disproportionate and interferes with the right to privacy. In accordance with EU fundamental rights law, the surveillance or interception of private communications or their metadata must be limited to genuine suspects against whom there is reasonable suspicion.

EDRi together with 52 civil society organisations including the EFJ, Article 19 and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) raised concerns about the lack of safeguards in the legislation, which could have serious implications for journalists using end-to-end encryption to communicate with their sources and colleagues.

“While we understand the importance of combating child sexual abuse on the Internet and the need to protect children, we warn that such legislation would have negative consequences for the work of journalists, who need to keep their sources confidential and be protected as well, otherwise the right to information would be greatly impacted,” said EFJ Director Renate Schroeder.

The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union will soon enter into negotiations on the proposal. Feedback from civil society organisations is open until 19 July 2022.