A Pivotal EU Parliamentary Move To Preserve Online Encryption

by Shealeigh

Following major pushback from over a hundred civil society groups and thousands of petition signees, a pivotal amendment that would protect end-to-end encryption has been embraced by a prominent committee within the European Union’s (EU) Parliament. 

In November 2023, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs (LIBE) amended a controversial regulation proposed in 2022. This regulation, as proposed by the European Commission, would have allowed European Union (EU) authorities to gather encrypted online data and cross-reference it with their databases in the name of preventing crimes against children, notably the spread of pictures depicting child abuse. 

The originally proposed regulation would have allowed for the mass-scanning of private phones and computers, going as far as to authorize the use of AI in checking and scanning private text messages.

While not perfect, the amendment seems to be sufficient to safeguard end-to-end encryption, according to Joe Mullin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). 

“Every human being should have the right to have a private conversation,” Mullin said. “That’s true in the offline world, and we must not give up on those rights in the digital world.” 

The new amendment prohibits client-side scanning, a form of bypassing encryption, and removes age-verification language that would have forced online users to provide identification cards before being granted internet access. Mullin noted, however, that the new language does leave the door open for such regulations in the future. Moreover, the approved amendment could lead to further government scanning of public material online—“less than desirable,” Mullin said, depending on how the process is conducted. In March 2024, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that weakening encryption violates the fundamental human right to privacy. 

As of April 2024, the news of this amendment’s adoption has not been addressed in the corporate press, only by industry organizations, such as the Computer & Communications Industry Association, and by nonprofit groups such as the EFF.

Sources: 

Joe Mullin, “This Month, The EU Parliament Can Take Action To Stop The Attack On Encryption,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, November 14, 2023.

Christopher Schmon, “European Court of Human Rights Confirms: Weakening Encryption Violates Fundamental Rights,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, March 5, 2024.

Student Researcher: David Miller (Frostburg State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Duncan (Frostburg State University)