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How far are we to ensure Child Safety Online in the EU? 

A timeline of events  

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In 2020, ECPAT launched Project Beacon as a response to the concerning changes of digital rights policies in the EU and their impact on child safety online.
Our team keeps advocating to influence policymakers in the EU and ensure child safety online becomes a top priority across EU member states. Read more about our journey below.
2020

On 21 December 2020, the EU Electronic Communications Code (EECC) came into force and expanded the scope of the EU e-Privacy Directive. As a result, the confidentiality rules laid down in the e-Privacy Directive started to apply to online service providers operating in the EU, such as social network, web-hosting, and online messaging platforms.

Companies were placed into legal limbo about voluntarily scanning their platforms to detect, remove, and report child sexual abuse material online. This had immediate consequences for child safety online.

Prior to the EECC entering into force, at least 300 companies and organisations worldwide had been voluntarily scanning for child sexual abuse materials on their online platforms. In the six weeks following the EECC regulation coming into effect, the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children announced a 51% decrease in reports of child sexual abuse material originating from the European Union, clearly showing that a significant number remained undetected.

 

As a response, our team began advocating to ensure that online service providers end all forms of online child sexual abuse online on their platforms, and adopt preventive measures, such as age verification tools. We started to engage with concerned parties across the EU and beyond. By calling on EU policymakers and EU citizens to take action, we began to influence the adoption of robust and harmonised policies that will place child safety online as the top priority in digital spaces and encrypted environments across EU member states. 

2021

After months of ECPAT advocating with other child rights organisations to ensure online service providers could continue using technology tools to detect, report, and remove child sexual abuse material found online, the European institutions reached an agreement: on 14 July 2021, a temporary derogation to the e-Privacy Directive was adopted to allow online service providers to continue their voluntary detection of child sexual material and abuse online.  

Although ECPAT initially welcomed this critical development, the interim derogation will only last for three years – until 3 August 2024. This means that the absence of a long-term solution could place countless children at further risk of online child sexual exploitation and abuse.  

Effective, long-term solutions to counter the proliferation of child sexual abuse and exploitation online start with clear legislation.

In September 2021, we surveyed 9,410 adults in the EU and we asked them about their thoughts on a legal obligation to use detection technology to prevent and combat child sexual abuse online. The results clearly demonstrated that there is widespread public support for the use of automated tools to identify child sexual abuse material online and for the European Union to introduce longer-term legislation that will keep children safe online. Learn more.  

ECPAT polling results show that 7 in 10 EU citizens want more child safety online and believe that the EU should require online service providers to detect, report, and remove any forms of child sexual abuse material online. 

 

2022

On 11 May 2022, the European Commission presented the Proposal to Prevent and Combat Child Sexual Abuse online, alongside a new European Strategy for a Better Internet for Kids. By adopting these measures, the European Union has the opportunity to establish a rulebook on what online service providers must do to ensure child safety online.

With the adoption of the Digital Services Act, which significantly revises the obligations placed on online service providers with regards to all users in the EU, the European Union sends a clear message to EU citizens and across the world: children’s rights need to be protected both offline and online. 

ECPAT welcomes these measures, and together with over 100 organisations that strive for children’s rights, safety, and security online and offline, we call on the European Union to transform the European digital landscape and ensure #ChildSafety online. 

There is a collective effort between ECPAT members in EU Member States, ECPAT International, and other child rights organisations across the EU. Together, we are informing and influencing the public and media debate around these crucial issues. 

ECPAT International invites you to join us as we advocate for the rights of children online. Change cannot be achieved without your help, and we welcome all voices on the topic. 

Learn more: 

Project Beacon – Placing children’s rights at the heart of EU digital policies

Why Does Online Child Protection Matter? Here is ECPAT Project Beacon to explain why 

What do the EU citizens really think about data privacy and child protection online? 

Towards online child protection in the EU 

ECPAT welcomes European Commission’s proposal to prevent and combat child sexual abuse 

Past activities: 

ECPAT joins civil society organisations in an open letter to the European Union on the European Day on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse – November 2022

ECPAT comments on the European Commission’s Proposal to Combat Child Sexual Abuse in the EU — September 2022 

ECPAT and 13 child protection organisations launch a new campaign to stop the spread of child sexual abuse material online — July 2022 

ECPAT recommendations to revise EU Directive 2011/93/EU on combatting sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children — July 2022 

ECPAT supports the European Commission’s proposal as a critical step toward better protection of children’s rights — May 2022 

ECPAT and Defence for Children – ECPAT Natherlands: Public polling in 8 EU Member States — August/October 2021 

ECPAT Expresses Strong Support for Apple’s New Policy — September 2021 

ECPAT and WePROTECT Global Alliance: Cross-sectional discussion on technology, privacy and rights: keeping children safe from child sexual exploitation and abuse online — May 2021 

ECPAT statement on the Proposal for a Regulation in the framework of the EU strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse — December 2020 

Support the campaign: 

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