EU proposes criminalizing AI-generated child sexual abuse and deepfakes

AI-generated images and other forms of fakery depicting child sexual abuse (CSA) could be criminalized in the European Union under plans to update existing legislation to keep pace with developments technological, indicated the Commission announced today.

It also proposes creating a new criminal offense for live streaming child sexual abuse. The possession and exchange of so-called 'pedophile manuals' would also be criminalized under the plan – part of a wider package of measures which the EU says are aimed at strengthening the prevention of pedophile ASE, in particular by raising awareness of online risks; and make it easier for victims to report crimes and get help (including giving them a right to financial compensation).

The proposal to update current EU rules in this area, which date back to 2011, also includes changes to the mandatory reporting of infringements.

In May 2022, the Commission presented a separate bill linked to the CSA, aimed at establishing a framework that could require digital services to use automated technologies to detect and report existing or new child sexual abuse material (CSAM) in circulation. on their platforms, and identify and report grooming activities targeting children.

The CSAM analysis plan has proven highly controversial – and it continues to divide lawmakers in Parliament and the Council, while stoking suspicion over the Commission's links to child safety technology lobbyists and raising concerns other delicate questions for the European executive. following a legally questionable foray into micro-targeted ads to promote the proposal.

The Commission's decision to prioritize targeting digital messaging platforms to combat CSA has sparked widespread criticism that the bloc's lawmakers are focusing on the wrong area to combat a complex societal problem – which may have -be generated a certain pressure so that it is followed by effects. proposals. (Not that the Commission is saying this, of course; it describes today's package as “complementary” to its previous CSAM analysis proposal.)

That said, even in less than two years since the controversial plan to analyze private messages was presented, there has been a massive increase in attention to the risks of deepfakes and AI-generated images, including fears that the technology will be misused to produce CSAM; and fears that this synthetic content will make it even more difficult for law enforcement authorities to identify real victims. So the viral boom in generative AI has clearly prompted lawmakers to review the rules.

“The increased presence of children online and technological developments create new opportunities for abuse,” the Commission suggests in a press release today. He also says the proposal aims to “reduce widespread impunity for online child sexual abuse and exploitation.”

An impact assessment carried out by the Commission before the proposal was presented identified the increased presence of children online and the “latest technological developments” as areas that create new opportunities for CSA. She also expressed concern about differences in Member States' legal frameworks that hamper the fight against abuse; and wants to improve current “limited” efforts to prevent sexual assault and help victims.

“Rapidly evolving technologies create new opportunities for online child sexual abuse and pose challenges for law enforcement to investigate this extremely serious and widespread crime,” added Ylva Johansson, Commissioner for Home Affairs. , in a press release of support. “A strong criminal law is essential and today we take a key step to ensure we have effective legal tools to save children and bring perpetrators to justice. We are delivering on our commitments made in the EU strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse presented in July 2020.”

Regarding online safety risks for children, the Commission's proposal aims to encourage Member States to step up their investments in “awareness raising”.

As with the CSAM analysis plan, it will be up to the EU co-legislators, the Parliament and the Council, to determine the final form of the proposals. And there is limited time for negotiations before the legislative elections and the restart of the college of commissioners later this year – although today's proposals against the CSA could prove rather less confrontational than the analysis plan of messages. So there could be a chance that one will be adopted while the other remains stalled.

If there is an agreement on how to amend the current directive on combating CSA, it will come into force 20 days after its publication in the Official Journal of the EU, according to the Commission.

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