Patrick Breyer, a legal expert and member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Germany's Pirate Party, has shared that his fellow EU parliamentarians are overwhelmingly in favor of introducing new rules that he refers to as “privatized mass surveillance.”
Breyer revealed that a majority of MEPS, in a 580:76:37 vote, decided to welcome European Commission's plan to force companies behind email and messaging services to automatically and in real time monitor their users' private conversations happening on these platforms.
The European Commission's justification for this is the need to root out child abuse, but Breyer believes that “chat control” will prove to be not only inefficient, due to the limitations of algorithms that will be used to carry out this task, but also spell the end of digital secrecy of correspondence.
The automatic process that covers emails and chats of all users means that authorities will not need to produce a court order or have any reason to perform these searches, such as suspecting someone of involvement in this type of crime.
Breyer explained that once an algorithm flags content as suspicious, then a user's private conversations and photos, including those of intimate nature that concern adults, can be viewed by tech companies' staff, their contractors, and law enforcement.
The flaws in the system, he continues, also mean that the text algorithm can falsely label content like sexting as “child grooming,” while a legal photo of a person's child taken on a beach could also be wrongly classified as exploitation of children.
And, according to Breyer, who cites Swiss police data, this happens all the time – 90% of such reports relying on algorithms prove to be false. At the same time, in Germany, only 40% of child abuse related investigations in the end turn out to target minors.
Clearly, for the scheme to work, emails and messaging would have to be unencrypted, and that means that more than just tech companies providing these services and the police would be able to access personal content – hackers will be able join in, too.
“This is only the beginning. Once the technology for messaging and chat control has been established, it becomes very easy to use them for other purposes. And who guarantees that these incrimination machines will not be used in the future on our smart phones and laptops?,” Breyer asks.