EC wants AI reading every European’s chat messages
The EC is planning to ask Europe’s mobile network operators to collude in secretly spying on subscribers by installing technology that helps it violate their right to privacy. Digital rights and privacy activist Reclaim The Net has revealed that the European Commission (EC), the executive branch of the European Union (EU), plans to use artificial intelligence (AI) for mass surveillance of its citizen’s private chats.
This proposal for mass surveillance of online chats has been dubbed Chat Control and is being spun by the EC as a way to combat child sexual abuse material (CSAM). Privacy considerations aside, the premise is flawed because searching for “grooming” content is likely to lead to false flags being sent to EU investigators, leading to the punishment of innocuous private conversations, say privacy campaigners. In a leaked document that was obtained and published by digital freedom rights campaigner Netzpolitik, the EC admitted that its proposed surveillance measures would create many false flags.
“The accuracy of grooming detection technology is around 90%,” the EC admitted in the document. “This means that 9 out of 10 contents recognized by the system are grooming.” The leaked document contains the EC’s answers to a series of questions from the German government about the implementation of Chat Control. Under the current Chat Control plans, private chats messages, and emails will be automatically scanned by AI for suspicious content, says the bulletin from Reclaim The Net. If the AI detects suspicious conversations, it will be flagged and sent to investigators at a planned EU centre. Investigators will view the content of these chats, identify false positives and forward illegal content to EU law enforcement agency Europol and other relevant law enforcement authorities.
Flag of convenience
While national law enforcement agencies don’t have direct access to content that’s flagged and sent to this planned EU centre, the leaked document describes Europol as “one of the most important partners” for the centre and adds that “close cooperation is essential.” The document notes that it’s “important that Europol receive all reports” from the centre. A German member of the European Parliament (MEP) Patrick Breyer warned that the 10% error rate will lead to three million chats and photos would be wrongfully disclosed to EU investigators each year. He added that the EC’s anticipated error rate is also likely too low.
Prone to error
“In languages other than English, there will be far more errors. According to the Swiss Federal Police, up to 86% of the machine reports to NCMEC [National Center for Missing & Exploited Children] are criminally irrelevant,” Breyer said. In practice, this would mean that millions of private messages and chats containing legal content, such as someone’s photos of their children or grandchildren at the beach or their private chats with friends and family, would be sent to and viewed by EU investigators because they were flagged by the Chat Control AI.
MNOs must comply
The EC also admitted that encryption falls under the scope of Chat Control and that mobile network operators will be required to use technology to comply with its requirements. “This appears to be a reference to client-side scanning technology which essentially breaks end-to-end encryption in chat apps by scanning the content of messages before they’re encrypted,” said activist Tom Parker at Reclaim The Net. The EC has told the German government that the only way mobile operators can avoid having to implement these mass surveillance measures is to impose age limits on the use of their apps. Another alternative is to prevent users from being contacted directly by unknown users.
“EU bureaucrats are seriously calling for either totally cutting off 17-year-olds from messages from 18-year-olds or depriving them of any privacy,” Breyer said. “This is as patronising as if we didn’t allow under-18s to go out unaccompanied. It is outrageous that the abolition of digital privacy of correspondence is being pursued in secret negotiations. We urgently need to take the defence of digital privacy of correspondence into our own hands!”
Stop Chat Control
A campaign, Stop Chat Control, is galvanising the public to protest against the EC’s Chat Control proposals. The campaigners have condemned the EC for its “evasive” and “contradictory” answers about Chat Control. “The Commission openly admits that in some cases it wants to require legislation that cannot be technically implemented,” Stop Chat Control said. “In doing so, it not only opposes fundamental rights, but reality itself. This reinforces the initiative’s demand that the draft should be completely withdrawn.”