The European Commission is expected to unveil this week its first piece of legislation aimed at tackling child sexual abuse online.

Announced on 24 July in the Commission Communication "EU strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse", the draft proposal is part of the wider Security Union Strategy.

Recent Europol statistics show that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on criminal offences online. The amount of child sexual exploitation material shared online saw a significant increase during the lockdown period. As a response to this, and "as a matter of priority", the Commission decided to come forward with "a narrowly-targeted" piece of legislation to avoid having a legislative gap in the telecoms regulatory framework.

As of 21 December 2020, the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) will extend the scope of the e-Privacy Directive to Over-The-Top (OTT) companies. Under the e-Privacy Directive, there is no legal basis enabling OTT operators to voluntarily detect and report online material to combat child sexual abuse online. OTT providers would only be able to continue monitoring on a voluntary basis if a national provision enables them to do so. The Commission, therefore, decided to prepare a legislative proposal to ensure that OTT companies are not prevented from voluntarily detecting child sexual abuse after December 2020.

The new draft law may also have an impact on the on-going discussions between the Commission, European Parliament and Council regarding the forthcoming e-Privacy Regulation. One of the most debated points in the Council relates to aspects of the fight against child sexual abuse that may fall within the scope of the new legislation. A separate Commission proposal on this issue may ease the way to reaching a general agreement on the draft e-Privacy Regulation in the Council before the end of the year.

This week, the European Parliament will also look at the new EU strategy to fight against child sexual abuse, due to be presented by Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, to the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on 10 September.

According to the Communication released in July, the first "narrowly-targeted" proposal will be followed by a longer-term proposal in 2021. This second piece of legislation would include requirements for online services providers to “detect known child sexual abuse material and report [it] to public authorities.” In this regard, the creation of a new EU centre to prevent and counter child sexual abuse is also being considered. The new EU centre, if established, would be tasked with supporting law enforcement in coordination with national authorities.

In the meantime, the Commission, under the EU Internet Forum, is also assessing regulatory options to detect and report child sexual abuse in end-to-end (E2E) encrypted electronic communications.

Early reports suggest that the focus of the assessment lies in exploring whether there are technical solutions in E2E communications, which allow for the detection of child sexual abuse content while maintaining the same or comparable benefits of encryption.

The final study with relevant findings in this area is due by the end of the year.