Europe passes mass surveillance law on WhatsApp, Telegram and Gmail

Key facts:
  • Chatcontrol was supported by 537 MEPs, another 133 voted against.

  • The law would require suppliers to enable a” backdoor ” for snooping.

The European Parliament gave the go-ahead to a new law that will allow mass surveillance on messaging apps like WhatsApp, Telegram and email services like Gmail. With 537 votes in favor, 133 votes against and 20 abstentions, the European Parliament repealed the so-called ePrivacy and the implementation of Chatcontrol to monitor communications on the Internet.

The legislation was passed on the grounds that it would counter child pornography and other related offences. With the initiative, lawmakers aim for digital platforms to enable a “backdoor” to snoop on users, should the authorities so determine under suspicion.

With the new provision, digital messaging companies have the option of whether or not to monitor their users to find suspicious content and notify them. However, in the coming months, the Members would approve a guidelines to force messaging providers to mass surveillance without discriminating against any person.

For Patrick Breyer, a German deputy for the Pirate Party, the passage of the law is a blow to privacy advocates. In addition, the legislative decision would also affect the media since their journalistic sources could be identified. Many times these people prefer anonymity for security reasons.

“The adoption of the first EU regulation on mass surveillance is a sad day for those who depend on free and confidential communications and advice, including victims of abuse and media sources. The regulation deals a deadly blow to the confidentiality of digital correspondence,” the legislator explained.

In a survey released in March, conducted among more than 10,000 citizens in 10 European countries, the majority of respondents rejected the measure still being debated in parliament. Study determined that 72% of participants were against Chatcontrol and that 18% of those interviewed supported it.

How Chatcontrol works

Providers of messaging services such as WhatsApp or Telegram, for example, should automatically and without discrimination monitor everything their users do with the applications. That is, third parties would have access to the messages, images and other files that are shared in the apps.

Mass surveillance is generating campaigns against them with messages like this to alert them to what is happening. Source:

These surveillance actions will be carried out with tools based on artificial intelligence and machine Learning. The system would, in case of suspicion, notify the authorities of a possible crime of child pornography. Some companies like Facebook, Microsoft and Google have already implemented chatcontrol in their services.

The widespread fear of mass surveillance lies in the fact that eliminates the secrecy of private digital correspondence in real time. Political organizations such as the Pirate Party call it a totalitarian method by which they could incriminate people who are not involved in any crime.

Privacy in apps and human rights

In a report released by CripoNoticias in February of this year, up to six messaging applications were analyzed according to their levels of security, privacy and anonymity. These three aspects are often taken into account by users to establish communications on the Internet.

Among the apps analyzed were: Status, Threema, Matrix, Signal, Telegram and WhatsApp. The first three were considered as the applications with a higher level of privacy, security and anonymity. The rest obtained a lower rating, although they are the most popular in the market.

In the international legal order, privacy is assumed as a right in which people are protected against interference with their privacy. In the American Convention on Human Rights, Article 11.2 establishes the following::

“No one may be subjected to arbitrary or abusive interference with his privacy, family life, home or correspondence, or to unlawful attacks on his honour or reputation.” Article 11.3 adds that everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

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