Children’s rights obligate adults to take action

The use of effective technological tools that protect children must continue to be permitted in the EU.

Tomorrow, Friday the 20th November, is the UN World Children’s Day. Finnish flags flutter on the flag posts to honour children’s rights, and traditionally child protection organizations take a strong stance to promote children’s rights and the work they do to advance the wellbeing of children. EU-level discussions are currently going on about the right to privacy and about a process that, at its worst, might lead to a major deterioration in children’s right in digital media. Tech companies have for a while now been utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) and the latest technology to protect children in digital media. For example, PhotoDNA by Microsoft detects sexual harassment, grooming and illegal child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on the platforms. The ongoing EU discussion on regulating the right to privacy predominantly takes the viewpoint of the rights of adults. In practice, this means that all the technological tools developed to protect children would need to be renounced as illegal. EU decision-makers are involved in a vehement discussion in which the rights of children and the adults’ right to privacy are gratuitously being pitted against one another.

Our concern is that the privacy of adults, therefore also that of criminals, in digital media is set as priority in decision-making. As a result, children’s right to protection is seriously deteriorated. As a child organization specializing in the prevention of sexual harassment, grooming and sexual violence and as senior specialists with specific expertise in this field, we wish to emphasize children’s right to protection. All children and the child victims and revictimized children, whose images have been spread uncontrollably online, must be regarded as a group in need of special protection measures. Should the proposed EU regulation be passed, tech companies would find it impossible to detect and prevent criminal activity against children, and protect the child victims of sexual crimes.

Finland is in the position where there is an option of leading the way in promoting children’s rights and contributing to the possibilities of tech companies of using the best and most effective new technology to protect children in digital media. Realization of children’s rights must be regarded as an extensive obligation; in this, corporations have a significant role. For example, Microsoft has developed its technology for years and this technology is available, free of charge, for government officials’, NGOs’ and companies’ use. Both national and international cross-administrative work that goes beyond organizational boundaries is the pre-requisite for the realization of children’s rights in all environments. The EU withdrawing from global responsibility in solving social problems in the name of the right to privacy would send the wrong message in our constantly more digitalized world. Children’s right to protection must come first.

The proposed amendment to the EU regulation thwarts major agents’ and corporations’ use of AI and other tools based on effective technology to protect children in the EU countries. This would also deteriorate the situation of child victims and the situation of the children who are learning to use technology. Children have the right to play, to self-expression and participation without a threat of any sort of harassment, grooming, or violence.

Protect Children are involved in an international petition to defend the rights of children in digital media. There are representatives of child organizations from all over EU member states and outside the EU among the signatories.

Our stance is that Finland needs, first and foremost, to safeguard the rights of children in all environments and, in particular, in digital media. The EU should maintain the status quo in which tech companies can use the latest and most effective technology to protect children on the internet. We must retain our possibility to prevent sexual harassment, grooming and sexual violence, and the existing effective technological tools to protect children and to remove the images of child victims from the internet.

Hanna-Leena Laitinen, Director of Public Affairs & Advocacy

Nina Vaaranen-Valkonen, Executive Director