European officials are again threatening to undermine basic privacy rights, tabling a bill that would introduce the largest mass surveillance tool ever deployed outside China.

In Brief

  • The rationale behind the bill is the protection of children, which assumes contrary to all evidence, that people in Europe are child molesters in waiting.
  • The AI would scan private messages under the pretext of protecting children – a duty reserved for parents or guardians.
  • The EU has proposed to abolish privacy all year, leading one to question the bloc’s intentions with such policies.
  • This week, Litecoin developers launched an opt-in privacy-preserving tool.

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Another EU Surveillance Proposal

In its proposal the EU Commission is planning to abolish online privacy completely. It proposes a Communist-style mass surveillance program that would read private text messages, not only to detect CSAM (Child Sexual Abuse Material), but to detect “grooming”.

Surveillance to detect CSAM and grooming must read every message.

Cryptography professor Matthew Green reacted to the chilling EU proposal, noting that it “describes the most sophisticated mass surveillance machinery ever deployed outside of China and the USSR. Not an exaggeration.”

What Could Possibly go Wrong?

According to the European Commission’s plans, everyone in Europe would be secretly monitored all the time. Once a law enforcement implements client-side scanning, the tool that does this can theoretically search for anything and everything. It would be up to the sole discretion of the monitors.

Setting aside the questionable ‘good guy’ assumption, the issue is two fold.

When broad consensus is needed to implement controversial policies, politicians will bring up fringe cases and cite wishy washy (incorrect) information. In this case, it would ensure the broadest consensus possible to deeply unsettling surveillance capabilities. But as mission creep inevitably settles in, the authorities will also look for other things, namely terrorists, human traffickers, drug dealers, gang criminals and an ever-broadening net at the expense of law-abiding, well-meaning citizens.

In some countries, political opposition and journalists are persecuted.

Data in Conflict With Surveillance State Program

Contrary to the claim that blanket surveillance is needed to protect children, publicly available German data shows that most surveillance orders are issued in regards to drug related crimes, and not to protect children.

Comparison of the percentage of wiretap orders for child pornography and drug offenses in Germany, 2009-2019.

The data brings the elephant in the room to the fore: is the EU Commission only interested in protecting children, or does the bureaucracy wish to introduce surveillance capabilities that can be used for other activities?

Additionally, questions of cyber-security are also entirely neglected. Hackers could use the program to siphon off sensitive data, insert malware or conduct any number of malicious attacks.

The EU Encroachment on Privacy & Liberty

This is not the first time European politicians have sat on the opposite end of liberty, European values and common decency.

Every month it seems a fresh move to undermine and downright obstruct basic human rights is undertaken by European politicians. In March, the EU proposed to ban Bitcoin & Litecoin Proof-of-work mining. The ban did not pass. It was revealed that regulators were acting on misguided beliefs about proof-of-work carbon emissions – which were proven to be false by compiled data from analytics firm, Messari.

In April, the EU proposed a law that would require exchanges to collect and share details of crypto transactions, threatening to wipe out all the work it has done on privacy policy standards in recent history. In the face of this consistent effort to undermine European values, Litecoin developers this week launched MimbleWimble Extension Blocks, the largest privacy-preserving upgrade to ever be implemented at scale on a top 20 cryptocurrency.

As the EU threatens to upend its mandate of upholding the European treaty in favour of dystopian-China-style policies, the need for technology to tip the scales appears dire.

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