EU countries and EU lawmakers agreed late Thursday evening to allow Facebook and Microsoft to scan and remove online child sexual abuse, potentially paving the way for a deal in the coming months on privacy rules targeting online platforms.
The provisional agreement is valid for three years. The European Commission will propose broader legislation with detailed safeguards to fight child sexual abuse online and offline later this year to replace the interim rules.
The interim legislation applies to providers of electronic communications services such as web-based email and messaging services which can continue to detect, remove and report child sexual abuse online, including anti-grooming.
"Today's agreement fills the legal gap to allow lawful voluntary practices by online communications services, like webmail and messaging services, to combat child sexual abuse in their services," EU Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton said in a statement.
Greens lawmaker Patrick Breyer however criticised the interim rules.
"This unprecedented deal means all of our private e-mails and messages will be subjected to privatised real-time mass surveillance using error-prone incrimination machines inflicting devastating collateral damage on users, children and victims alike," he said.
The issue of how to tackle online child sexual abuse and disagreements over rules for cookies have been the main hurdles to the 27-country bloc's efforts to create a level playing field between internet players and telecoms providers via legislation called the ePrivacy Regulation.
Proposed by the European Commission in 2017, the ePrivacy Regulation would subject WhatsApp and Skype to the same rules as telecoms providers and restrict the tracking of users in order to provide personalised ads.
The proposed legislation needs to be thrashed out by EU countries and EU lawmakers before it can become law.