July 15. 2024. 6:57

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Swedish parliament divided over EU’s new controversial ‘chat control’ bill

Swedish politicians from all sides of the political spectrum have reacted strongly to a controversial but government-backed EU proposal to improve the detection and removal of child sexual abuse material in text communications.

The proposal, which has come to be known in Sweden as the “chat control law”, received the support of the majority of Swedish parties – with the exception of the Centre Party (Renew Europe) and the Sweden Democrats (SD, ECR) – after being partially amended in the Swedish Parliament’s Justice Committee, and will now be sent to the EU Affairs Committee.

The proposal was presented at EU level in 2022 by Swedish EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson, and deals with how internet giants should act against abusive material online.

The file has been stuck in the Council for several months due to opposition from Paris and Berlin, with the key point of contention being over what the law could mean for end-to-end encryption -a technology that allows only the sender and receiver of content to be identified.

However, a new compromise sent to COREPER this week could finally break the deadlock, possibly thanks to France’s support.

The compromise, seen by Euractiv, excludes audio communications and puts the onus on a proposed centralised agency and the Commission to assess how privacy is respected in the identification of child sexual abuse material (or CSAM).

“We now assess that important steps have been taken,” Justice Minister Gunnar Strömmer wrote to the Swedish press agency TT after the breakthrough in the Swedish parliament’s justice committee, saying his government was ready to take the next steps.

Criticism from all sides

Although the legislative committee adopted the text, it was opposed by parties usually reluctant to cooperate, including the far right, the centre liberals, and even the far left.

Legal policy spokeswoman for the Centre Party, Ulrika Liljeberg, said she did not think the proposal had changed enough from its original draft – although she said it was important to prevent the spread of child pornography.

“What we weigh against this interest is that many people need to have access to encrypted communication services. For example, vulnerable people and democracy movements”, she said.

“Breaking the encryption, that’s where we draw the line. We do not see any guarantee that this will not happen with the current proposal”, she added.

The same goes for the Sweden Democrats, who have condemned the attack on encryption and the government’s promises, which they say have been broken.

“In the EU election campaign, the Moderates (EPP) and the Liberals (Renew) have expressed criticism of the so-called original proposal and referred to their opposition to chat control. But what they have not said is that they actively worked to find a compromise which means that the encryption will still be broken,” said Adam Marttinen from the Sweden Democrats (ECR).

As the controversy mounts in Sweden, Left Party MPs have also come out against the proposal to introduce chat controls, arguing that a mistake was made during the committee vote, according to Left Party MP Gudrun Nordborg.

”There was a mistake at the committee meeting, I should have reported a dissenting opinion,” said Nordborg.

Left Party lawmaker Illona Szatmári Waldau told the newspaper Dagens ETC that the issue will now go to the EU committee on which she sits.

“Then we in the Left Party will be very clear with our criticism,” she said.

[Eliza Gkritzi contributed to reporting]

(Charles Szumski | Euractiv.com)

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