Just a few years ago, the European Union’s GDPR laws rallied the public over protection of online data. However, a new EU proposal seeks the opposite, asking Big Tech to make all private messages public.
The new proposal asks end-to-end encrypted services like WhatsApp and Telegram to monitor messages from all accounts. With every message seen, this will make it easier to flag and stop the spread of illegal content.
Why is the EU trying to stop end-to-end encryption?
For the most part, the EU’s new proposal revolves around the spread of CSAM (child sexual abuse material) online. With almost 100 million pieces of CSAM spread through end-to-end encrypted platforms every year, full message monitoring could help to solve the issue.
The European Commission’s proposed act would make it so that Big Tech has a legal obligation to monitor all messages. Whether on iMessage or Snapchat, every message would be scoured to flag inappropriate content and inform authorities.
The scans would not only be used to detect new and existing CSAM, but also any instances of grooming. If passed, the act will make sure that every company performs audits of CSAM material spread on its service and then implement technology to stop it.
Of course, while end-to-end encryption is exploited by online pedophiles, it’s also a security measure. The use of encryption is primarily to protect people from data collection, hackers and those wishing to do harm. For example, journalists in countries with harsh censorship that seek to hurt, imprison or kill them use the tech to stay safe.
The Backlash Begins
The EU move to kill end to-end encryption is not unique to the European Commission. In fact, just last year, Apple proposed the addition of similar audio-message scanning to all iOS devices in order to stop the spread of CSAM.
This move was heavily criticised by tech users, civil rights advocates and security experts, including United States NSA exposer Edward Snowden. The general consensus was split between individual civil freedoms, privacy concerns and security issues.
Alongside the fact that end-to-end encryption does keep vulnerable people safe, it also stops messaging companies from knowing everything about a user. For example, if all messages can be read, an employee or hacker would also be able to access them, exposing unlimited private information. With social media companies already accidentally releasing private information to hackers, this is a general concern.
Whether or not the EU does end up killing end-to-end encryption or not is yet to be seen. However, if it does, them the backlash will undoubtedly begin, and it won't be quiet.