"Caring for children for sexual purposes is always about a child who is on the verge of or in the middle of abuse," said John Shehan, vice president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the US clearinghouse that works with technology Corporations and law enforcement agencies around the world.
According to the clearing house, 1,020 reports on maintenance from the European Union had been received by September. Cases of care were recorded in all 27 E.U. Countries and included many examples of "sextortion" – when an adult poses as a minor to solicit photos or videos, they use the images as blackmail to further exploit the child.
Diego Naranjo, head of policy at European Digital Rights in Brussels, an advocacy group, said the issue was tense because anyone who questioned the practices of tech companies was seen as "someone who doesn't care about the children".
Even so, the technology companies and child protection groups did not advocate scanning strongly enough to justify the invasion of privacy.
"They have not provided any evidence that this is proportionate," he said. "We don't open every letter in the mail to see if something is illegal."
The European Data Protection Supervisor, an agency that provides advice on data protection issues, said clearer safeguards for consumers were needed. In the European Union, data protection is regarded as a legally protected human right. In a statement released last month, the agency said: "The confidentiality of communications is a cornerstone of the fundamental right to respect for private and family life."
The tech industry has largely stayed out of the public debate.
While Facebook said it would end proactive scanning in Europe, other companies stayed calm. In October, Microsoft filed a statement with the authorities stating that the detection software was used only to identify child abuse and not for commercial purposes. However, a company spokesperson would not indicate whether they would stop scanning under the new regulations.