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Child Abuse Survivor Sues Meta For Scanning Messages

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In a landmark legal challenge, a survivor of child sexual abuse from Bavaria has teamed up with the German Society for Civil Liberties (GFF) to contest Meta’s policy of scanning private messages.

The plaintiff, Schneider (pseudonym), aims to secure a safe and private space for dialogue with fellow survivors without the threat of their communications being deemed suspicious by Meta’s algorithms.

The lawsuit is part of a broader battle against the pervasive and flawed surveillance measures employed by US tech giants such as Meta, Google, and Microsoft in the form of voluntary chat control or chat control 1.0. Schneider’s suit aims to quash the 2021 EU regulation that permits these intrusive activities. Adding fuel to the fire is a planned successor regulation intended to extend this surveillance mandate to all providers of email, messenger, and chat services under the banner of chat control 2.0 or the Child Sexual Abuse Regulation (CSAR).

We obtained a copy of the complaint for you here.

Patrick Breyer, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) representing the Pirate Party, has himself previously launched a legal fight against voluntary chat control. Currently, he is involved in deliberations on the proposed mandatory chat control regulation. Breyer provides a voice for the criticism coming from abuse survivors, asserting that chat control, rather than offering assistance, obliterates private spaces for vital communication, therapy, and counseling.

The present lawsuit, filed by a survivor, challenges the presumption of EU Internal Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson (remember her?) and other architects of the controversial policy, that they speak for victims of sexual abuse. In Breyer’s words, the lawsuit sends a clear message: these policy-makers can no longer assume they are the voice of abuse victims.

According to Breyer, the privacy invasion is a disturbing move towards an Orwellian society, with the European Union Commission’s plan allowing US tech companies to deploy imperfect algorithms for monitoring our personal mobile devices, messages, and pictures. Breyer likens it to a postal service that opens and scrutinizes all letters—an action both ineffective and illegal.

Alarmingly, the regulation allows for the invasion of the most personal and intimate exchanges, which could potentially end up in the hands of company employees or law enforcement agencies. Breyer warns that such breaches in the digital confidentiality of correspondence are erosive of trust. He emphasizes the importance of secure private communication for not only individuals in need, victims of abuse, and children, but also for economic sectors and government agencies.

Breyer points out the fallacy of the EU Commission’s strategy. He notes that organized child abuse rings do not rely on traditional email or messaging services, but rather on tightly-controlled private forums. The EU Commission’s chat control initiative, he argues, jeopardizes the broader security of our private communications and public networks, trade secrets, and state secrets, all in pursuit of short-term surveillance gains. Instead of spying, Breyer contends that the focus should be on eradicating harmful content.

The lawsuit echoes widespread criticism of the current chat control measures in the United States. These techniques do not effectively counteract the propagation of abusive images, they overwhelm law enforcement, and they lead to the unjust criminalization of young people for sharing consensual images. Furthermore, surveys have shown that minors – who are supposedly protected by chat control scanning—largely reject these practices.

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