European legislators aim to find a middle ground between safeguarding and respecting privacy by creating legislation addressing the distribution of explicit images of minors.

BRUSSELS (AP) — Seeking to strike the right balance between protecting children and protecting privacy rights, European Union lawmakers on Tuesday adopted a series of amendments to a draft law that is intended to keep sexually explicit photos and videos of minors from circulating online.

The European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs has approved a draft position that would mandate internet providers to evaluate the potential for their services to be utilized in the sexual abuse or exploitation of children. They would also be required to implement measures to minimize these risks.

However, in order to prevent widespread monitoring of the internet, legislators suggested exempting end-to-end encrypted content from detection. They also proposed allowing time-limited detection orders, authorized by courts, to be utilized in cases where other measures are not effective in locating illegal material.

They stated that they desire mitigation measures to be precise, appropriate, and successful, and that providers should have the autonomy to select which measures to implement.

The entire Parliament must now approve their position before any further negotiations between EU member countries can occur.

The number of reported cases of child sexual abuse on the internet has significantly risen in the 27-country bloc, going from 23,000 in 2010 to over 1 million in 2020. This trend is also seen globally, as reports of online child abuse have gone from 1 million to almost 22 million between 2014-2020, with over 65 million instances of child sexual abuse being discovered through images and videos.

Last year, the European Commission put forth a proposal to require online platforms in the EU to identify, report, and eliminate problematic material. Currently, detection is left up to the discretion of companies, but the Commission argues that this system is insufficient in safeguarding children as many companies do not actively identify such material.

Digital rights groups had immediately warned that the Commission’s proposal appeared to call for widespread scanning of private communications and would discourage companies from providing end-to-end encryption services, which scramble messages so they’re unreadable by anyone else and are used by chat apps Signal and WhatsApp.

The proposed measures from the committee were commended by the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a major lobbying group in the tech industry. The group specifically praised the measures for limiting scanning requirements, protecting end-to-end encryption of communications, and enhancing targeted mitigation efforts.

The group stated that Parliament’s use of the “cascade approach” involves online service providers evaluating risks and then implementing measures to reduce them. The tech industry supports this method and also appreciates the clarification that detection orders will only be sought as a last resort by a competent judicial authority and must be specific and limited.

Politicians from various parties also expressed approval for the modifications made to the original suggestion.

“According to Hilde Vautmans, the representative of the Renew Europe group for the regulation, there will not be a widespread surveillance of communications and there will be no compromise on end-to-end encryption. This deal is a significant advancement in ensuring online safety for children while also protecting fundamental rights.”

The parliamentary committee has requested that pornography websites incorporate effective age verification methods, tools for identifying and reporting child sexual abuse material, and human content moderation to handle these submissions.

The Parliament stated that in order to prevent minors from being contacted online, MEPs suggest that services specifically for children should automatically obtain user permission for any unsolicited messages. They should also have features for blocking and muting messages, as well as enhanced parental controls.

To improve the ability of providers to recognize abuse, the Commission suggested establishing an EU Center on Child Sexual Abuse, modeled after the U.S. nonprofit reference center, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which aids families and victims of exploitation.

The proposal was accepted by legislators. The center will collaborate with domestic authorities and Europol to enforce the updated regulations and assist service providers in identifying and reporting online abuse materials.

The center will assist the government in implementing the new regulations for child sexual abuse. They will also help with investigations and can impose fines up to 6% of global revenue for not following the rules.