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If enforced, EU chat control will limit Free Software

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Surely you have already heard about the controversial EU draft law on mandatory chat control with the supposed aim to effectively tackle child sexual abuse. This law implies the monitoring and scanning of the communications of citizens – even the securely encrypted end-to-end one.

person watching through hole

FSFE’s co-founder and programmer Bernhard E. Reiter explains why we as Free Software supporters should join the protest against this legislation that deprives citizens of the privacy of digital correspondence.

As a software developer, if I needed a method to transfer data to a group of people, I would write an application to encode and decode any information/ message I want to send over this channel. Then I would distribute the app to my users, using it to communicate with them, without anybody being able to see what we write along the way.

This is so-called end-to-end cryptography, and any software engineer can write such an application.

Free Software allows everyone to control, write and run their own software. This means that they can tinker with their devices, they can help each other and even earn money by establishing a business based on this software. They are encouraged to use, understand, share and improve it.

By enforcing all service providers to “scan” chat or other messages, the state must also take away the ability - and the right - for you and me to write an own version of software that communicates via the service providers. Otherwise a scan on the server would be useless.

The European Commission’s proposed regulation has not fully taken this into account. It would hinder people to run their own Free Software products on their phones (and other devices) and it would limit innovative companies to provide new services based on Free Software components with strong security and privacy-friendly technology.

Furthermore, the intended regulation would raise the bar for entry into a market which is dominated by a few large corporations. Those providers of software and central service have lower costs per message when installing scanning technology and can take this as an excuse not to offer open standard programming interfaces and prevent people from writing their own clients or not to offer a decentralised service infrastructure which is open for fair competition.

This will further burden those aiming to create software for users that is inspectable by the public, as is the case with Free Software. Additionally, the regulation will also fail to protect children as intended for the same technical reasons outlined above.

A number of groups and experts have explained other negative effects of the proposed regulation, and we are joining them from a technical and ethical Free Software perspective: Please join the protests against the proposed EU Chat control.