The Future of Online Child Protection in Europe / Lasten suojelun tulevaisuus Euroopassa

Protect Children’s Executive Director, senior specialist Nina Vaaranen-Valkonen, legal specialist Anna Ovaska, specialist in developmental psychology Katariina Leivo, and intern, LL.M. student Matilda Sandvik gave a Consultation to the European Commission titled: ”Fighting child sexual abuse: detection, removal and reporting of illegal content online”.

Suojellaan Lapsia ry:n asiantuntijat ovat antaneet lausunnon Euroopan Komission konsultaatioon.

Read Protect Children’s legal specialist Anna Ovaska’s blogpost on the Consultation and the current situation in the EU below.

I find it difficult to believe that we are still struggling to comprehend the gravity of the problem of (online) child sexual exploitation (CSE), up to the extent where we, the professionals working tirelessly for the protection of children, need to actively prove and highlight the significance of the matter.

A current topic of discussion, and one that the recent European Commission Consultation focused heavily on, is electronic service providers’ use of technology to identify and remove child sexual abuse material (CSAM) from their platforms. This highly developed technology allows for service provides to flag down CSAM by screening data shared through their platforms. This may be, for instance, messages and data shared through instant messaging services or through other means on a platform. Whilst it is clear that data privacy is vital, what is more important is prioritizing the protection of vulnerable children from all forms of sexual violence. All sexual violence against children is harmful for the child and their development, as well as being contrary to the rights of the child pursuant to a number of international & EU legal documents. Data protection cannot prevail over the safety and well-being of children and therefore the Protect Children’s specialists are of the opinion that CSAM detection technology should also be used in encrypted environments.

Another important aspect that our statement focused on strongly is the need for unified and coordinated legislation to protect children against all harmful acts against them in every EU Member State. It is utterly against the rights of the child that not all Member States are legally obliged to recognize certain forms of child sexual abuse material as such pursuant to European Union and Council of Europe legislation. Some Member States have reserved the right to not criminalize certain forms of CSAM, such as virtual deepfake CSA videos and animated CSAM despite their clear violations of the rights of the child. When it comes to virtual or so-called “victimless crimes” we must bear in mind that it is very hard, or even impossible to ensure the CSA material does not, in fact, portray a real child.

To achieve sustainable and effective change, and the best protection of children against all sexual violence, it is of paramount importance that harmonized legislation exists throughout the European Union to minimize impunity. Moreover, legislation must be ‘future proof’ so that it can be interpreted and implemented alongside the constant development of technology, and so that perpetrators cannot take advantage of loopholes in legislation. Finally, we cannot let perpetrators take advantage of their right to privacy to the detriment of the well-being and safety of our children.

Anna Ovaska

Legal Specialist, Protect Children

anna.ovaska@suojellaanlapsia.fi