EU may monitor searches under guise of child porn prevention

The European Parliament's website urging its members to sign Declaration 29 seems well-meaning enough, with a frightened-looking child and a plea to end sexual harassment, child porn, and pedophilia. However, privacy advocates are concerned over a semi-hidden rider on the declaration that allows EU member states to retain data from search engines, essentially eliminating any privacy EU citizens previously had when surfing the Web.

The stated purpose of Declaration 29 is to set up an early warning system (EWS) to target pedophiles and sex offenders. The statement itself is somewhat vague about how this would be done, but claims that pedophiles currently enjoy "freedom of action, putting them on the same footing as honest citizens and making it difficult for the authorities to trace them."

As such, the EU is calling on members to implement Directive 2006/24/EC—also known as the Data Retention Directive—in order to "tackle online child pornography and sex offending rapidly and effectively." Once the declaration has 369 signatures, it will be adopted—as of this writing, it has 324.

The problem is that the Data Retention Directive makes it simple for EU states to monitor the Internet searches of citizens. This has led privacy advocates to urge parliament members to withdraw their signatures in support of Declaration 29. One member of the parliament, Christian Engström, indicated on his blog that he believes many of those who have signed the declaration were misled and don't realize the full implications of the Data Retention Directive. He notes that the marketing materials don't mention the directive by name (only by number).

Another parliament member, Cecilia Wikström, wrote an open letter to her fellow parliament members saying that she made a mistake in signing the declaration. "The Written Declaration is supposed to be about an early-warning system for the protection of children. Long-term storage of citizens’ data has clearly nothing to do with 'early warning' for any purpose," Wikström wrote. "[I]t seems very likely that MEPs signed the Written Declaration unaware of this aspect of the text, just like I did... The declaration is likely to get all the signature[s] it needs and therefore I urge those of you who may have signed it by mistake to withdraw your signature."

Given the EU's pressure on companies like Google to keep cutting their data retention periods, the attempt to slide this one under the radar seems suspicious. As Engström points out, concerned citizens should contact their parliament members about the issue soon, before the signature requirement is met.

Source: ars technica

Tags: EU, Internet

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