Child pornography or child abuse material on the web must be removed at source in all EU countries, said the Civil Liberties Committee on Monday, in amendments to proposed new EU rules to prevent abuse, stiffen penalties, and protect victims. Where removal is impossible, e.g. because pages are hosted outside the EU, Member States may still "prevent access" to this material, in line with their national laws, MEPs added, so no Member State will be prevented from blocking sites.
Civil Liberties Committee MEPs made a series of amendments Monday to a proposed EU directive to combat sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. Studies suggest that between 10% and 20% of minors in Europe may be sexually assaulted during childhood.
Complete removal at source must be the main aim
The original Commission proposal would have made blocking of child porn web sites mandatory for Member States. MEPs instead advocate removal at source and, should that prove impossible, allow Member States to "prevent access" to this material.
EU Member States must impose binding requirements to ensure the "removal at source of internet pages containing or disseminating child pornography or child abuse material", MEPs say.
The EU must also co-operate with third countries to secure the prompt removal of such material from servers hosted in those countries, they add.
Should removal at source prove impossible (e.g. because the state where servers are hosted is unwilling to co-operate or because its procedure for removing the material from servers is particularly long), Member States "may take the necessary measures in accordance with national legislation to prevent access to such content in their territory", say MEPs. The adopted amendment therefore in no way prevents any Member State from blocking sites, in line with its national law.
National measures preventing access "must be set by transparent procedures and provide adequate safeguards, in particular to ensure that the restriction is limited to what is necessary and proportionate, and that users are informed of the reason for the restriction", MEPs say. Content providers and users must also be informed of the possibility to appeal, and to whom to appeal, under a judicial redress procedure, they add.
Tougher penalties and ban on working with children
The new rules would introduce tougher penalties across the EU for those who sexually abuse or exploit children. The proposal sets minimum penalties for 22 criminal offences, but also allows Member States to impose harsher measures and sentencing.
Offenders would face penalties ranging from one to over ten years in prison, depending on the crime. Since some 20% of sex offenders go on to commit further offences after conviction, MEPs stipulate that convicted offenders "may be temporarily or permanently prevented from exercising professional activities involving direct and regular contact with children and volunteer activities related to the supervision and/or care of children".
When recruiting, employers will be entitled to obtain information on any convictions for sex crimes. After recruitment, if serious suspicion arises, employers may still request such information, even if it has to be obtained from criminal records held in other EU countries. Member States may also take other measures, such as putting in place "sex offenders registers" accessible to the judiciary and/or law enforcement agencies, add MEPs.
Abuse by persons in a position of trust, authority or influence over the child (for instance, family members, guardians or teachers) is included in, and punishable under, the new criminal offences. Higher sentences would also be imposed on anyone committing an offence involving children with a physical or mental disability, in a situation of dependence or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
"Sex tourists" travelling abroad to abuse children will also face prosecution, under the new rules on jurisdiction.
EU-wide criminalization of "grooming"
New forms of abuse and exploitation, such as "grooming" (befriending children through the web with the intention of sexually abusing them), or making children pose sexually in front of web cameras, will also be criminalised. MEPs have added a rule that offenders who use different means to target a great number of children so as to multiply their chances of committing the crime would face harsher penalties.
MEPs have strengthened proposed rules on assisting, supporting and protecting victims, to ensure that they have easy access to legal remedies and do not suffer from participating in criminal investigations and trials.
Negotiations between Parliament and Council representatives will continue in the coming months, with a view to reaching a compromise preferably in the first half of 2011. Once adopted, this directive will replace current EU legislation dating from 2004. Member States would then have two years to transpose the new rules into their national laws.
Committee vote on report of Roberta Angelilli (EPP, IT): 40 in favour, none against, 5 abstentions
In the chair: Juan Fernando LÓPEZ AGUILAR (S&D, ES)