Wednesday, 13 January 2021
Media release

Five Country Statement to EU to prevent child abuse online

Australia and its Five Country partners have issued a statement calling on the European Parliament to protect children around the world by addressing the unintended consequences of the new European Electronic Communications Code.

The new Code, which came into effect in the European Union (EU) on 21 December 2020, introduced a new broader definition of ‘electronic communications services’, compelling service providers operating in the EU to comply with the rules of the ‘ePrivacy Directive’. This will inadvertently make it easier for criminals to abuse children online.

Under the new Code, it is now illegal for electronic service providers, including social media companies, operating in the EU to continue to use the necessary tools to detect child sexual abuse material on online platforms and services.

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton said protecting our children is the most important thing we can do as a global community and that user privacy should not come at the expense of children’s safety.

“These tools and technologies are essential to protect the lives of children and assist law enforcement to investigate these heinous crimes,” Mr Dutton said.

“Governments have stepped up efforts to keep children safe online and maintained pressure on technology companies to take responsibility for the safety of children who want to enjoy the opportunities of the online world. This new Code risks undoing all our hard work.”

In March 2020;  Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, in close consultation with six leading platforms, launched the Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse to provide a framework for the technology industry to combat child abuse online.

“The Voluntary Principles rely on the continuation of companies’ legal and technical ability to identify and take action against child sexual abuse on their platforms,” Mr Dutton said.

Following the signing of the International Statement: End-to-End Encryption and Public Safety in October 2020,  the Australian Government – along with its Five Countries partners and the Governments of India and Japan – have been working closely with the world’s largest tech companies to implore companies to better protect children online.

“The introduction of the Code could undermine this progress and prevent tech companies from using some of the most powerful tools available to combat child abuse on their platforms,” Mr Dutton said.

“It is essential that the European Parliament acts urgently and agrees to exempt certain technologies from the ‘ePrivacy Directive’ and preserve companies’ ability to detect and prevent child sexual abuse. This cannot wait.

“We support European Union measures that will allow for the continuation and expansion of the current efforts to keep children safe online.

“I thank our likeminded partners for their ongoing commitment in addressing this global challenge.”

A copy of the Statement is available via the Home Affairs website​.

The Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse are available at WePROTECT Global Alliance​.