New EU online privacy law may increase risk of child sexual exploitation


New EU online privacy law may increase risk of child sexual exploitation

  • Proposed changes to the EU online privacy laws may make it harder for the tech industry to identify and remove child sexual abuse images.
  • More than 30 NGOs and campaigner groups have sent a letter to EU President Junkers asking for the EU Council of Ministers to amend the wording of the proposed regulation – so that specialist software that tracks child sexual abuse imagery can still be permitted to operate.
  • Unless changed, the proposed regulation threatens to undermine efforts by governments, law enforcement agencies, NGOs and others that have been fighting this crime for years in collaboration with the private sector.

Read more…

New EU online privacy law may increase risk of child sexual exploitation


London, UK – 1 December 2018 – Campaign groups say that proposed changes to European Union laws that govern Internet privacy could make it more difficult to identify online child sexual abuse imagery, which in the long-term could hamper efforts to track offenders and rescue victims.

More than 30 child rights NGOs, including ECPAT International and eight ECPAT member groups from across the European Union, want the wording of the draft Regulation on Privacy and Electronic Communications (e-Privacy Regulation) currently under consideration in Brussels, to be changed before it is adopted. In a letter to EU President Junkers, Vice President Ansip, and the Austrian Presidency of the EU, they warn that the new rules in their current form are likely to seriously endanger the safety and well-being of children. They argue that the proposed regulation will make it difficult for businesses to deploy software that detects this kind of material in online traffic – so it can be flagged and removed – and are asking EU ministers for a specific exemption so that this type of technology can still legally operate.

“Technology, such as Microsoft PhotoDNA and similar applications are currently used by businesses and network providers across the EU,” says Robbert van den Berg, Executive Director of ECPAT. “These programmes enable businesses to locate child sex abuse imagery on their systems so it can be reported to appropriate authorities, such as law enforcement, and deleted from servers. In the last few years, this technology has found and removed tens of millions of images, thwarting offenders and preventing the re-victimization of children. The draft regulation threatens to withdraw the permissible use of this successful technology and further imperil the victims of this crime.”

Many EU businesses currently use PhotoDNA and similar software on a voluntary basis to rid their networks of child sex abuse material. However, this will change if the new e-Privacy Regulation is adopted. The regulation is due to go before an EU ministerial meeting for discussion on 3 and 4 December.

“It is way beyond the capacity of law enforcement agencies to address the volumes now circulating online,” cautions the letter. “Police in all parts of the world have therefore repeatedly called on the private sector to do more to help, and they are committed to and playing their role.  Deploying applications like PhotoDNA is exactly the kind of thing they have in mind. Yet the e-Privacy Regulation appears to threaten this wholly beneficial status quo.  We are at a loss to understand why the EU feels it is necessary to step-in and disrupt effective and established practices which self-evidently work so well.”

8.7 million images identified

In October Facebook indicated that in the third quarter of this year, PhotoDNA and comparable products helped it identify 8.7 million images that breached its child nudity policy and most of this content was removed before anyone even saw it. In the past, Google has also indicated that 99 percent of all the illegal content it removed from its services had first been identified using this technology. Similarly, the US based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children recently said it is on track to receive more than 20 million reports of illegal child sex abuse images by the end of 2018, with the overwhelming majority of that imagery detected because of technology companies’ use of PhotoDNA. Indeed, PhotoDNA has helped or will help find some 99 percent of this material.

However, the use of PhotoDNA and similar software would be banned in the EU under the proposed new ePrivacy Regulation. If these new rules are passed, customers would have to be asked for ‘consent’ before certain types of information can be accessed by service providers – an unworkable prospect in the context of illegal child sexual abuse imagery.

“It is ridiculous to imagine that child sex offenders would be willing to give their consent to being monitored,” says John Carr, senior advisor to ECPAT. “Adopting this regulation would be a huge gaffe for children’s rights. I’m sure the drafters did not intend to outlaw, reduce or limit the scope for companies to deploy these tools to identify child sex abuse material. We need to put this right.”

Could affect all EU Member States

The proposed laws would affect all EU Member States unless they individually decide to derogate from the new rules, which ECPAT says would inevitably lead to a patchwork of national laws.

“This makes no sense at all when dealing with international platforms,” says Carr. “The current arrangements are working well. They should leave them alone. I suspect that the current sloppy wording in the proposed regulation was written by someone who did not think it through. Any confusion surrounding the use of PhotoDNA and similar technology could be rapidly and easily cleared up.”

The regulation (the full name of which is: Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the respect for private life and the protection of personal data in electronic communications and repealing Directive 2002/58/EC”) is intended to apply to all businesses providing online communication services that use online tracking technologies, or that engage in electronic direct marketing. It would repeal a previous directive from 2002 and is meant to complement the recently passed General Data Protection Regulation.

Rape without physical contact, is it punishable by law?

Yes, in a judgment of 25 September last, the Brussels Court of First Instance sentenced a man for rape of a minor, without the author having had any physical contact with his victim, the abuse taking place by means of a webcam. A verdict that will hopefully set a precedent because it sweeps away the idea that rape cannot be committed “at a distance”, as is the case with new technologies. Read more…

Rape without physical contact, is it punishable by law?

Yes, in a judgment of 25 September last, the Brussels Court of First Instance sentenced a man for rape of a minor, without the author having had any physical contact with his victim, the abuse taking place by means of a webcam. A verdict that will hopefully set a precedent because it sweeps away the idea that rape cannot be committed “at a distance”, as is the case with new technologies.

1. A progressive interpretation of the offence of rape

In this case, the defendant required the 15-year-old girl to self-penetrate in front of a webcam. There was therefore no physical contact between the author and his victim. But if we look more closely, the fact that the sexual act is committed by one person against another is not a constituent element of the offence of rape. What is, however, is that there is an act of sexual penetration on a person who does not consent to it. The sexual act here is indisputable: the girl has practiced digital self-penetration. And at no time did she consent to it. The documents in the file show the blackmail, insults and threats made against the victim if he refused. The Brussels Court of First Instance rightly found the author guilty of rape. By reminding that physical contact between the abuser and the abused is not necessary to commit rape, the judgment therefore gives an evolving interpretation of the offence. But it does more. By mentioning that the author “cowardly sheltered” behind Facebook’s anonymity, the court insists on the perversity of the acts committed via new technologies. Far from considering online sexual abuse as a less serious version of those committed “in real life”, this decision erases a boundary that is too often established between the “real” and “virtual” world. It should be recalled that materials representing the sexual abuse of children, such as those that the victim was forced to produce, are first and foremost evidence of a material, very real act. Etienne Wery, a specialist in digital law, says nothing else: “A few years ago, it was regrettable that when it came to IT, the damage was also often considered virtual. But when you see the victims, it is often a life to be rebuilt and the suffering is not virtual. Now the judges recognize this.

2. The new faces of child sexual exploitation

Indeed, underestimating the impact of new technologies on the sexual abuse of minors misses one of the most important aspects of cybercrime. Every day, millions of materials representing child sexual abuse circulate on the Internet. Produced by adults, but also by children/adolescents. In its latest report, EUROPOL identifies this “self-produced” content as one of the greatest cybercriminal threats. How do these devices end up on the Net? Because teenagers do sexting, that is, they exchange sexual pictures. These private materials can nevertheless be found on social networks, through negligence, malice, revenge, etc. Cybercriminals and cyber predators are also masters in manipulation. They have all the “tricks” to win the trust of minors and make them stage themselves. When these “self-produced” materials are used as a means of blackmail to obtain other photos or money, it is called sextortion. This is exactly what the above-mentioned author did when he threatened his victim to perform certain sexual acts. If the sole and only responsible for these sexual abuses remain their sponsors, let us not forget the importance of equipping children from an early age with the tools for the responsible use of new technologies. This is exactly the objective of the (Dé)clic project, which is participatory, innovative and sustainable, and places young people at the centre of their own prevention. Because, however important the case law of the Brussels Court may be, the important thing is that the acts do not take place.


Petit Paul, a well-founded polemic?

For several weeks, critics have been hovering around the comic book Petit Paul, an adult book telling the story of a 10-year-old boy with a disproportionate sex. Because it illustrates extremely explicit sexual acts between a minor boy and adult women, this comic book rightly shocked many readers. Read more … 

Petit Paul, a well-founded polemic?


Source image:

For several weeks, critics have been hovering around Petit Paul, a comic book created by Bastien Vivès. This adult book tells the story of a 10-year-old boy whose particularity is that he has an oversized sex. Although he is not of sexual age, the main character “systematically finds himself in impossible and embarrassing situations“.

Because it illustrates extremely explicit sexual acts between a minor boy and adult women, this comic book rightly shocked many readers. Immediately, a petition was launched to remove it from sales. She adds: “The book is supposed to be humorous, and it seems delicate to us to laugh at a scene that glorifies child abuse, a subject that is unfortunately far too topical.”

It should be noted that in the meantime, two renowned French bookshops (Cultura and Gilbert Joseph) have already decided not to sell the book anymore. This is not the case for supermarkets such as Amazon….

Is it an illegal work?

Yes ! the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by France, prohibits the sale and access to materials representing the sexual abuse of children*, defined as “any representation, by any means whatsoever, of a child engaged in explicit sexual activities”.

Who would dare claim that Little Paul comics escapes this category? She who shows, among other things, the child forced to cunnilingus to his teacher or a position “69” with his judo teacher?

Faced with the accusations, Glénat, the book’s publisher, defends itself: “This work of fiction was never intended to de-dramatize, promote or legitimize the abuse of minors in any way whatsoever. It is a caricature whose drawing, deliberately grotesque and outrageous in its proportions, leaves no doubt as to the totally unrealistic nature of the character and his environment.

Is it not cynical or naive to judge that the “grotesque” nature of the comic book or the “totally unrealistic” nature of the character does not “de-dramatize” or “legitimize” child sexual abuse?

And hypocritical to be surprised by the controversy when the prefect and collection director of Petit Paul is none other than Céline Tran, alias Katsuni, a former pornographic actress.

Let us not underestimate the impact

Apart from the illegal nature of the book, depicting a child in sexual acts with an adult is never insignificant. This helps to normalize the fact that a minor may be an adult’s sexual partner.

What if the child doesn’t resist, like Little Paul? To assume a child’s consent, because he or she does not resist, is to ignore years of research in trauma. The latter show that a victim of sexual abuse’s lack of reaction may result from the state of paralysis in which he or she finds himself or herself. This “apparent consent” is in fact a survival reflex!

By depicting sexual relationships between a child and an adult, Petit Paul normalizes these relationships that should not be, sweeping away the fact that a child his age is legally considered incapable of giving his consent to these acts. This is extremely misleading and dangerous.

Moreover, by endowing his 10-year-old hero with a disproportionate sex, the author endorses and reinforces the hypersexualization of our society, by which minors are potential sexual objects. From there to think that the child is seeking, or even provoking the sexual act, there is only one step that some people take happily. It is therefore important not to underestimate the impact that works of fiction with an apparently “grotesque” and “unrealistic” character of the Petit Paul type can have.

*ECPAT Belgium avoids using the term “child pornography”, which could suggest that acts are consented to by trivializing them. We prefer the term “materials representing child sexual abuse”, in accordance with the Luxembourg Guidelines.


Jeudis de l’Hémicycle: Child Trafficking.

What is child trafficking and which forms does it take? What are the challenges but also the good practices in terms of identification and protection of child victims? These are some questions that will be addressed during a roundable co-organised by ECPAT Belgium and the French-speaking Brussels Parliament. The different topics will be explored through concrete examples given by front-line professionals (police officer,                                                                                                                                          magistrate, support centers for victims).

Venue: French-speaking Brussels Parliament (rue du Lombard 69, 1000 Brussels)

Date: 8 november, from 9am to 13am



Child Trafficking in the Heart of Europe

In the framework of the “Quinzaine de la Solidarité Internationale”, ECPAT Belgium and PAG-ASA have held an event to better understand child trafficking.

The evening started with the documentary “Trafficking in the Heart of Europe. The viewing was followed by an engaging Q&A featuring the co-director of the documentary (Sylvia Nagel) and field actors: Espéranto (center for child victims of trafficking) and PAG-ASA  (support center for victims of trafficking). The evening ended with the launching of “Photo-Voice, a photo exhibition with pictures taken by victims of                                                                                                          trafficking.




The event was attended by over 60 participants who actively participated to the discussion afterwards.  If you missed the event, you can find the pictures here.

Great success for Venise sous la neige


You didn’t see the snow, neither did you see Venice but what the Philantroupe gave us was even better! A night filled with laughs, discussions and solidarity since the play was given in favour of DBA, CAP’TEN and ECPAT Belgium. Thank you for making this evening a wonderful success!

If you would like to experience this unforgettable moment again, clic here.

Join the Blue Heart Campaign !

Did you know that 30 July is the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons?
This year the focus is set on the protection of children against this crime.

Because 1/3 of the trafficked victims worldwide are under 18.
Because a transnational crime requires a transnational response
Because exploitaion of children happens everywhere, also in Belgium
Because all of us should be aware of the signs

Join the BlueHeart Campaign and say no to child trafficking.