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European Council postpones vote on chat control legislation

The European Presidency, which currently is in the hands of Belgium, has delayed the voting on a controversial bill to combat child sexual abuse material (CSAM). Member states of the European Union need more time to deliberate on the proposal, especially on the matter of chat control.

Back in 2022, the European Commission announced it wanted to put a stop to the production and distribution of CSAM.

The administrative body of the EU came with the idea of scanning all images, photos, messages and other files sent by chat services like WhatsApp and Signal before they are encrypted. Experts call it client-side scanning, politicians use the terms ‘chat control’ and ‘upload moderation’.

Privacy advocates fear the bill will undermine online privacy and safety. “All technological solutions being put forward share that they give a third-party access to private speech, messages and images under some criteria defined by that third party,” almost seventy scientists and privacy experts wrote in an open letter at the time.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden warns that the proposal will lead to ‘terrifying mass surveillance’ and we have to do everything in our power to stop Brussel. Will Cathcart, CEO of WhatsApp, claims the bill will break encryption. “It’s surveillance and it’s a dangerous path to go down,” he says on X.

Even the European Parliament is skeptical. To raise their concerns on the proposal, 48 politicians from Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands wrote an open letter to the European Council this week, advising to vote against the chat control bill.

Nobody knows when the voting will take place

Originally, the vote was supposed to take place last Wednesday. Because numerous EU member states hadn’t taken a position on the proposal, which was drafted by Belgium, the European Presidency removed the item from the agenda at the last minute.

The same happened again on Thursday.

According to Netzpolitik, there’s no majority in favor of the bill. Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Poland announced they will vote against the draft. The Czech Republic will abstain. France said it will agree if it means there will be no weakening of encryption. Ireland is in favor.

Now that the European Council hasn’t taken a position, negotiations between EU member states will continue. It’s unclear when the voting will actually take place.

If the European Council takes a position on the bill, it’s up to the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament and the European Commission to consider the proposal.

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