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Irish senator raises concern over EU “mass surveillance” law

An Irish senator has raised concerns over a proposed EU law, which she says will lead to the “mass surveillance” of European citizens.

The comments were made in the Seanad by Senator Sharon Keogan, referring to the European Commission’s draft law on so-called “chat control.”

The draft law seeks to allow artificial intelligence (AI) to scan all private messages and images on all user devices across the European Union, with an aim of detecting suspicious material – in particular, child sexual abuse.

However, at least 35 civil liberties groups, including the German Bar Association, European Digital Rights, the Committee to Protect Journalists and more, have slammed the proposed legislation as an “unjustified intrusion” into the privacy of hundreds of millions of EU citizens.

Amid the controversy, Senator Keogan spoke on the issue this week.


“The European Commission is set to publish its draft law on so-called chat control, which will oblige providers of digital correspondence platforms to search all private chat messages and emails automatically for suspicious content,” she said.

“This searching will be done by way of algorithm artificial intelligence, AI, and carried out in a blanket manner. Everyone’s messages will be scanned all the time, which will result in the end of secure online communications within the EU.

“If an algorithm considers a message suspicious, its content and metadata are disclosed automatically and without human verification to a private US-based organisation. The reported users are not notified.”


She described the move as one towards “Chinese Government-style surveillance,” adding that sex abusers share material through the dark web, which would not be caught by such algorithms.

“The implications for the privacy of 500 million people are stark,” she said.

“We in this House passed a law last year to criminalise the sharing of intimate photographs without consent, yet if an algorithm now classifies the content of a message as suspicious, an individual’s private or intimate photographs may be viewed by staff and contractors of private international corporations and police authorities.”


In an open letter to the EU Commission, 35 civil liberties groups wrote that “In the context of the upcoming EU legislation to effectively tackle child abuse, we urge the Commission to ensure that people’s private communications do not become collateral damage of the forthcoming legislation.

“…As the recent Pegasus scandals have shown, the unfettered tapping of people’s devices poses huge risks to journalists, politicians, human rights defenders and the preservation of democratic society.”

Click to access Civil-society-open-letter-Protecting-rights-and-freedoms-in-the-upcoming-legislation-to-effectively-tackle-child-abuse.pdf


In a separate statement, the group known as European Digital Rights said that similar previous legislation “would (and did) allow companies to spy on everyone’s communications.”

They added: “The crux of the issue is that this proposal presumes that technology can offer a quick fix to an issue that is in fact deeply complex, and goes far beyond the remit of what technology is feasibly able to achieve.”

Notably, according to Swiss federal police, 86% of all machine-generated reports turn out to be false alarms.

Additionally, a YouGov poll last year involving 10,000 people found that 72% of EU citizens opposed the proposed legislation.


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