Australia, along with 4 other countries have issued a statement together declaring that the unintended consequences of the new EU Electronic Communications Code is putting children at risk. The four participating countries (apart from Australia) are the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada. The new European Electronics Communications Code was effective in the European Union from 21st December 2020. The code is aimed at harmonizing the present legal framework for electronic communications across the European Union (EU). 

The EU Electronic Communications Code

The code introduces a new and broader definition of ‘electronic communications services’, It compels communication service providers operating in the European Union to comply with the rules and regulations of the ePrivacy Directive. As a result of the code, several over-the-top (OTT) platforms and many other telecommunications services that didn’t previously fall within the definition of the code, now do. 

According to the new Code by EU, it is now illegal for electronic service providers, which includes social media platforms and companies, that operate in the EU to continue using the necessary tools that help in detection of child sexual abuse material on digital platforms and services.

Mr Peter Dutton, Australian Minister for Home Affairs said this will inadvertently make it a lot easier for criminals to abuse minors and children online.

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Statement by Australia & other countries

The statement issued by the 5 five countries says it is essential that the EU urgently adopts the derogation to the ePrivacy Directive as proposed by the European Commission (EC) for the essential work carried out by electronic service providers to protect endangered children in Europe and across the globe to continue.

The EU has a unique role to play in the international fight against child sexual exploitation on online platforms. It is crucial that the European Union adopt substantial measures that make sure legal authority along with practical ability for service providers to use tools to detect and prevent online child sexual exploitation, the statement reads.

Mr Dutton points to the Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse which launched in March 2020. It provides a set of 11 actionionable points that technology firms have agreed to follow voluntarily to prevent child predators and abusers from targeting children on their platforms. 

He adds that the Voluntary Principles rely on the continuation of legal as well as technical ability of the companies to identify and take appropriate actions against child sexual abuse on their respective platforms. He further pointed to the signing of the International Statement: End-to-End Encryption and Public Safety in October 2020. It was signed by the Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, US, UK, Indian and Japanese governments. The statement said the countries have been closely working with the largest tech giants of the world to implore companies to better protect children online.

Dutton concluded that the introduction of the EU Electronic Communications Code could possible undermine the progress already made and prevent tech giants and companies from using few of the most powerful tools available to fight child abuse on their platforms.

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Image Courtesy: TECHGLIDING