Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) Today, as we celebrate Safer Internet Day across Europe and beyond, we must acknowledge that we are facing a race against time as legislators when it comes to providing a safer internet for kids. The Internet offers a tremendous wealth of opportunities for children and has proven an essential tool in young people’s lives. But with that, it has also created unprecedented social distortions and challenges that put children’s rights and children’s health in jeopardy.
As we grapple with many challenges that the online world poses, given the intrinsically fast-paced and ever-changing environments, as legislators we cannot do anything but come up with a robust and future-proof regulatory framework that will impose clear obligations on online services providers.
The DSA and the EU Proposal for a Regulation to prevent and combat child sexual abuse and exploitation are both extremely powerful tools that essentially prescribe due diligence rules and other obligations on all online service providers calling them to embed safety-by-design tools.
I have the honor to be the Renew Europe spokesperson for the Regulation to prevent and combat child sexual abuse. When we first started negotiating the Regulation proposal, we did not have this amount of AI-generated child sexual abuse material. Now, even a celebrity like Taylor Swift has been a victim of such crimes, exposing the fragility of us all before those unprecedented and widespread challenges that spare no one. If it is hard for an adult to suffer the consequences of such crimes, imagine what it would feel like for a child.
As shadow Rapporteur, I had to make many compromises to ensure a large and sustainable majority would fly and move forward with the legislative proposal on the table.
I have come a long way from where I stood when I first started with this extremely controversial proposal. As said in many circumstances: we are talking about the most heinous crimes that the human mind can conceive of, so I had always been in favour of the legislation to include all instances of child sexual abuse – including new CSAM and grooming – to be detected.
However, in the spirit of compromise, I had agreed to a text that surely is less ambitious than what I had initially wished for, but I think it still provides a robust backdrop against which online communication services providers will have to comply and be held accountable in their fight against child sexual abuse. I am particularly proud that I managed to include a specific text in article 6 of the legislative proposal that will oblige porn websites to use age verification tools to prevent children from accessing porn sites.
As we know, in the digital environment, time is of the essence and there is not much time left.
I am proud that last week, the LIBE Committee of the European Parliament managed to approve the extension of the Temporary Derogation to the ePrivacy Directive so that we will not face any legal gap, as we wait for the Council to reach a general approach on the Regulation so that we could kick-off the trialogue negotiations.
But now, the Council needs to act and deliver on the permanent legislation. We cannot allow the extension of the temporary derogation to become the norm, thus disincentivizing the Member States to do more on their side and from coming up with a general approach.
We all share the same goal: making the internet a better and safer place for our children. The EU has the potential to set an important benchmark and to set the bar high when it comes to the protection of fundamental rights in the digital world for other jurisdictions around the world to follow suit. If not now, when? Children are rights-holders here and now and they demand from us, decision-makers, to put forward solutions that keep them safe.
Let’s go from words to action and protect all children!
Published in Brussels Morning on 06/02/2024