Client Side Scanning: a loophole for mass surveillance

19 oktober 2023 | Forum for Democracy Intl

The European Commission has come up with a proposal to enable “client side scanning”. This would check text messages - even before they are sent - for specific content. Experts warn of mass surveillance at European level. 

The Lower House held a round-table discussion about the proposal on 11 October with several experts: Jaap-Henk Hoepman, Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius, Michel van Eeten and Bert Hubert.

Frederik Jansen MP spoke on behalf of Forum for Democracy. 

Technically trivial 
Client side scanning is said to be necessary to stop the spread of child pornography and grooming.  A little programme on your phone, linked to an EU database, would check messages for content, before they are sent. If the imagery, or text messages, are flagged as criminal by the algorithm, a light will flash at the European Union. The message will then be blocked and an official will then check whether it was actually pornographic material.

According to Jaap-Henk Hoepman, associate professor of privacy and technology at the University of Groningen, however, this technology can scan for anything. He even calls it "trivial" to tweak the technology - whether you are looking for cat pictures or grooming. Professor Frederik Borgesius adds that it is therefore also possible to filter for words like “demonstration” and “cartoon”; the road to totalitarianism then lies wide open.

There are also practical concerns. Billions of messages are sent every day. Even with a margin of error of 0.001%, there will be millions of people who are “flagged up” incorrectly. Think, for example, of a child's picture on the beach being sent to grandparents. According to Bert Hubert, wrongful reports are not without consequences: there will be investigations, phones will be emptied, Child protection agencies like the Dutch ‘Safe Home’ NGO will come over to investigate. 

Moreover, those distributing actual criminal material will be aware of this new technology and will take measures to circumvent it. It is therefore also ineffective, according to Michael van Eeten. What would be left is a very strong surveillance system which will mainly be applied to innocent citizens.

Forum for Democracy's commitment is clear. This proposal must not be allowed to pass. The technology is incredibly dangerous. Frederik Jansen will continue to oppose it in the Lower House and defend the fundamental rights of Dutch citizens.


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