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Protecting Children's Safety Requires End-to-End Encryption

As lawmakers grapple with the serious issue of child exploitation online, some proposed solutions would fuel the very problem they aim to solve. Despite expert warnings, the Belgian Presidency persists in pushing for the implementation of client-side scanning on encrypted messaging services, rebranding the effort as "upload moderation". Their latest proposal mandates that providers of private communication services obtain user consent for AI-based scanning of their private chats. If users do not consent, they will be prohibited from sharing images, videos, and URLs.

Privacy critics have long pushed for measures like centralized scanning of private photos and messaging data, arguing it could detect illicit content. However, invasive monitoring of private communications would create detrimental risks that far outweigh any perceived benefits.

Why we’re taking action

SimpleX Chat signed a joint statement about the dangers of the EU compromise proposal on EU CSAM because maintaining end-to-end encryption is crucial for protecting privacy and security for everyone, including and especially children.

We urge the Ministers in the Council of the EU to stand firm against any scanning proposals that undermine end-to-end encryption, which would enable mass surveillance and misuse by bad actors, whether framed as client-side scanning, upload moderation, or any other terminology. Compromising this basic principle opens the door to devastating privacy violations. We also urge any organizations or individuals reading this to write to their representatives and voice their concerns. European Digital Rights has outlined these issues in greater detail for anyone seeking more information.

Why compromising privacy endangers children

The core issue is that compromising encryption and privacy makes innocent people vulnerable to malicious hackers and criminals seeking to exploit users data. Centralized scanning systems become a tempting target, potentially exposing millions of private family photos when breached. This would easily open up avenues for blackmail, abuse, and victimization of children. A case in point is the recent criminal charges against Meta in New Mexico, which highlights how the tech giant's algorithms enabled child exploitation by encouraging connections between minors and sexual predators. Privacy-eroding initiatives like client-side scanning would play into the hands of malicious actors by making more sensitive information accessible and weaponized in the same way that it has been on Meta platforms.

What should be done

Rather than undermining privacy, to achieve child safety online users should be empowered with high standards for encryption and data control. For example, adopting a model where children (and users in general) cannot be discovered or approached on networks unless they or their parents permit it, similar to the SimpleX network privacy model. Intelligent multi-device synchronization could enable this oversight without compromising end-to-end encryption overall. It’s always possible to protect children without opening everyone, especially children themselves, to greater vulnerabilities due to such proposals.

However, some recent legislative efforts have bizarrely moved in the opposite direction by seeking to limit parental access. The chilling truth is that the least private platforms have been major enablers of child exploitation. Eroding privacy protections on other services will only aid criminals further, not protect children. Preserving strong encryption and user privacy must be the foundation for any credible effort to combat online child exploitation. Initiatives trading privacy for supposed safety are not just technically flawed, but would achieve the exact opposite of their stated intent. We must avoid being gaslighted by narratives that defy logic, and instead provide users with the highest possible standards for privacy protections as a core principle.

Protecting end-to-end encryption without carving out backdoors or vulnerabilities should be non-negotiable for children's and everyone’s safety. It is critical to redirect the discourse to focus on taking genuine privacy further by protecting against metadata hoarding and other means by which people’s data can be abused or subjected to surveillance.

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