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Why Advocates Should Think Twice About Laws They Support

Based on messages sent to me, I know that many child abuse advocates assume that I am in favor of many of the laws being tossed around the US and other areas of the world. They are often surprised that I’m not in favor of them. After all, the argument goes, if they help one child, they are worth it.

I think that assumption is wrong, for a couple of reasons. So, let’s take a couple of examples.

  1. Age verification for online sites.
  2. The EU and UK’s plans to scan for CSAM.

First, age verification for using social media. This would require everyone, children, and adults, to provide identifying information to social media sites. This will absolutely lead to more identity theft. It will also mean, essentially, the end of anonymity. There are many of you out there who think that removing the ability for anyone to be anonymous online would protect children. I think it would harm them. That teenager living in an abusive situation, the young adult just coming out of one, the adult just coming to terms with their abusive past, and anyone struggling with mental health issues will no longer be able to get information and support online without giving up their identity.

The same would go for domestic abuse victims, whistleblowers, etc. There would no longer be any online space safe for you. One hacker accessing one social media ID verification tool would make everyone unsafe.

And, don’t tell me that the systems would be safe even if only authorized legal entities had access. We know data gets breached all the time. As we’ll also see in the next section, law enforcement will not think twice about misusing data.

This week, information was released about hearings held with Europol about new regulations that would force any chat service to scan all user communication for CSAM. This might sound like a good idea, but again it’s not that simple. They are demanding that services that provide encrypted communication disable that for this purpose. In essence, that service that businesses use to conduct private communication, lawyers and their clients use to communicate confidentially, and the public uses to provide privacy protections for their own, private, communication, will now have to provide a giant backdoor for law enforcement to use to spy on that communication. As if creating that backdoor will somehow, magically, never be breached by someone who isn’t law enforcement.

I work with technology, I know it will. There’s zero question about this among technical experts.

But, worse than that, we see what Europol officials actually want, and I believe, would push to do whether it was legal or not:

In the meeting, the minutes of which were obtained under a Freedom of Information request, Europol requested unlimited access to the data produced from the detection and scanning of communications, and that no boundaries be set on how this data is used.

“All data is useful and should be passed on to law enforcement, there should be no filtering by the [EU] Centre because even an innocent image might contain information that could at some point be useful to law enforcement,” the minutes state. The name of the speaker is redacted, but it is clear from the exchange that it is a Europol official.

Law enforcement officials don’t just want to be able to scan for CSAM. That’s the excuse to get the public to buy into mass surveillance. “It’s for the kids” is disingenuous. It’s not for the kids to them, it’s to open the door to the police, and anyone with some skill, to watch ALL of our communication and use it in any way they see fit.

Yes, that will include that cop who’s a little too friendly with the teens in the neighborhood, the one abusing his wife, or the one stalking an ex. It’ll also include officials with political leanings spying on opponents, dictators with unfettered access to all communication coming and going to their citizens, and hackers getting access to blackmail material.

All of it. Out there for anyone with the keys to see, store, and use as they see fit.

In fact, I will say that there’s an argument that mass surveillance of this kind would do more harm to kids, not make them safer, and it would undoubtedly do harm to everyone else.

So, if you want to know why I’m not in favor of mass scanning of private communication, I’ll add this. As a child abuse survivor myself, I’ve learned to not trust anyone until they have earned it. Law enforcement has not earned that trust. Not when there are statements out there like this one and far too many examples of the abuse of power.

I want to support survivors and those dealing with mental health issues by providing safe spaces for them to talk and get support. These laws do the opposite. That’s why I’m not in favor of them.

Next, they’ll be asking to outlaw curtains so the police can see what’s happening in our houses, right?

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