Privacy advocates can breathe a sigh of relief, with the EU’s internal legal review concluding the bloc’s plans for message scanning are likely illegal.
The EU is pursuing a bill that would force service providers to scan messages in encrypted services for illegal content, especially content pertaining to child abuse.
The EU’s plans are similar to a plan Apple proposed, which would involve on-device scanning. When the EU first proposed the new bill, critics condemned it as “the most sophisticated mass surveillance machinery ever deployed outside of China and the USSR.” Even the EU’s own description of the bill says the “process would be the most intrusive one for users.”
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According to The Guardian, the EU’s own lawyers are now warning the bloc that its proposed rules are likely illegal and will be overturned by the courts for breaching user privacy rights.
The attorneys warned that the bill “would require the general and indiscriminate screening of the data processed by a specific service provider, and apply without distinction to all the persons using that specific service, without those persons being, even indirectly, in a situation liable to give rise to criminal prosecution.”
The attorneys warn that courts have previously ruled that message scanning must be “proportionate only for the purpose of safeguarding national security” and “it is rather unlikely that similar screening of content of communications for the purpose of combating crime of child sexual abuse would be found proportionate, let alone with regard to the conduct not constituting criminal offences.”
The lawyers concluded the regulation poses a “serious risk of exceeding the limits of what is appropriate and necessary in order to meet the legitimate objectives pursued, and therefore of failing to comply with the principle of proportionality”.
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The Guardian reports that a number of member states, including Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Spain, are in favor of proceeding with the legislation without making any changes.
Germany, on the other hand, has already opposed the bill, saying it goes too far and would likely trample the rights of users. In the wake of the attorneys’ findings, Germany is doubling down in its opposition to the bill.
The Guardian reports that Patrick Breyer, a German MEP on the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee, has labeled the bill “dystopian.”
He said: “The council of the EU’s services now confirm in crystal clear words what other legal experts, human rights defenders, law enforcement officials, abuse victims and child protection organisations have been warning about for a long time: obliging email, messaging and chat providers to search all private messages for allegedly illegal material and report to the police destroys and violates the right to confidentiality of correspondence.”
Only time will tell if the EU will listen to the legal experts or try to push ahead with “the most sophisticated mass surveillance machinery ever deployed outside of China and the USSR.”