Europe’s Moral Crusader Sets Law on Encryption

“If we as the EU can force service providers to scan some content through a back door, other states will also be able to say they have to search for content. [something else] through the same back door,” says Karl Emil Nikka, an IT security specialist who has discussed Johansson in a Swedish newspaper podcast. Swedish the newspaper. It suggests that other countries could use this backdoor to search for content related to whistleblowers, abortions, or members of the LGBTQ community.

Johansson emphasizes that this bill is not about privacy, but about the protection of children. We should be thinking of the 11-year-old girl who’s been coerced into sending someone explicit photos and now she’s seeing them circulate on the internet, she says. “What about her privacy?”

This is a difficult debate to have; an ideological battle where the safety and privacy of children clash. When this has played out in other countries, politicians have avoided talking about the grim details of child abuse, hoping the public would back down if they did. But Johansson is trying a different tack. She insists on discussing the details and accuses her opponents of pretending these issues don’t exist. “Now we have robots sending these grooming attempts to children on a massive scale, this is pretty new,” she says. “We also have this live broadcast of children in the Philippines who have been locked in houses, special houses where they are being raped and broadcast live.”

She dismisses concerns from tech companies like WhatsApp that their encryption would be weakened. “Some companies don’t want to be regulated,” she says.

When asked about the technological underpinnings of his bill, Johansson says he believes the legislation will drive companies to innovate. Once technology that can scan encrypted messages has been invented, it must be accredited by the EU before countries can implement it. “If the technology doesn’t exist, of course it can’t be used. That’s clear,” she says.

WhatsApp has been dismissive about the possibility of developing a technology like this. “I have not seen anything close to effectiveness,” Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp, said WIRED in March. However, statements like that leave Johnasson alone. “I’m challenging big business,” he says. “And they are strong. They put a lot of energy, probably money, into fighting my proposal. But that is life. That’s how democracy has to work.”

This is a technical discussion about what is possible on the backend of the Internet. To make it easier for the public to understand, both sides have resorted to strange analogies to explain whether or not the proposal is sinister. Supporters of the bill liken the concept to the way spam filters in your email read your messages to decide if they’re junk or if a speed camera just sends pictures of cars speeding to human reviewers. But opponents say the proposed scanning technology is the equivalent of installing surveillance cameras inside your apartment or allowing the post office to open all letters so they can search for illegal content. “What I fear is, where does it lead? Where does it stop? asks Patrick Breyer, an MEP representing the Pirate Party of Germany. “They will also want to expand it in terms of scope. So why only scan for MASI? What about terrorism? What about copyright?


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