HomeInsightsEuropean Commission proposes new legislation to combat child sexual abuse online

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The Commission notes that the current system of trying to combat child sexual abuse online, which is based on voluntary detection and reporting by companies, has proven to be insufficient to adequately protect children. Up to 95% of all reports of child sexual abuse received in 2020 came from one company, despite clear evidence that the problem does not only exist on one platform.

To effectively address the issue, the Commission says that clear rules are needed with robust conditions and safeguards.

A new independent EU Centre on Child Sexual Abuse (EU Centre) will facilitate the efforts of service providers by acting as a hub of expertise, providing reliable information on identified material, receiving and analysing reports from providers, swiftly forwarding relevant reports for law enforcement action, and providing support to victims.

The new rules will include:

  • mandatory risk assessment and risk mitigation measures: providers of hosting or interpersonal communication services will have to assess the risk that their services are misused to disseminate child sexual abuse material or for the solicitation of children, i.e. grooming; providers will also have to propose risk mitigation measures;
  • targeted detection obligations based on detection orders: Member States will need to designate national authorities in charge of reviewing risk assessments; where these authorities determine that a significant risk remains, they will be able to ask a court or an independent national authority to issue a detection order for known or new child sexual abuse material or grooming; these orders will be limited in time, targeting a specific type of content on a specific service;
  • strong safeguards on detection: organisations that receive a detection order will have to detect the content using markers provided by the EU Centre; detection technologies must only be used for the purpose of detecting child sexual abuse and must be the least privacy-intrusive in accordance with the state of the art in the industry; they must also limit the rate of false positives to the maximum extent possible;
  • clear reporting obligations: providers that have detected online child sexual abuse will have to report it to the EU Centre;
  • effective removal: national authorities will be able to issue removal orders if the child sexual abuse material is not swiftly taken down; internet access providers will also be required to disable access to images and videos that cannot be taken down, e.g. because they are hosted outside the EU in non-cooperative jurisdictions;
  • reducing exposure to grooming: the rules will require app stores to ensure that children cannot download apps that may expose them to a high risk of grooming; and
  • oversight mechanisms and judicial redress: detection orders will be issued by courts or independent national authorities; the EU Centre will verify reports of potential online child sexual abuse made by providers before sharing them with law enforcement authorities and Europol to minimise the risk of erroneous detection and reporting; both providers and users will have the right to challenge any measure affecting them in court.

The new EU Centre will support:

  • online service providers: in complying with their new obligations to carry out risk assessments, detect, report, remove and disable access to child sexual abuse online, providing detection indicators and receiving reports;
  • national law enforcement and Europol: by reviewing reports from providers to ensure that they are not submitted in error and forwarding them quickly to law enforcement to help rescue children from situations of abuse and bring perpetrators to justice;
  • Member States: by serving as a knowledge hub for best practice on prevention and assistance to victims, fostering an evidence-based approach; and
  • victims: by helping them take down materials depicting their abuse.

The Commission has also published a “European Strategy for a Better Internet for Kids” (see item below).

It is now for the European Parliament and the Council to agree on the proposal. Once adopted, the new Regulation will replace the current interim Combating Online Child Sexual Abuse Regulation (2021/1232/EU).

The proposals are open for consultation for a minimum of eight weeks. To read the Commission’s announcement in full and for links to the proposed Regulation and other relevant documents, click here.