Child online protection: The road ahead

2 May 2016 09:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the WSIS Forum 2016]

The session was opened by Mr Houlin Zhao (ITU Secretary General) who referred to the heinous crimes of child sexual abuse and ITU’s efforts on child online protection. The ITU’s COP multistakeholder initiative, launched in 2008, brings together partners from all sectors to collaborate on a global level.

Ms Maud de Boer-Buquicchio (Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography), moderator for the session, described the link between ICTs and sexual exploitation as one of her main priorities. She was referring to one of her reports to the Human Rights Council which analysed the demand factor of child sexual abuse material, paying particular attention to role of the private, technical, and financial sectors.

Constant innovations are hard to keep up with. Emergent patterns include self-generated material (which she said was a euphemism, as some of the material is obtained from grooming), and tools that facilitate the sharing of such content. Cyberbullying and extortion were also related issues.

The Special Rapporteur said it was fundamental that law enforcement benefits from private sector knowledge. We need to consolidate private-public partnerships, national and international, and to be ahead of criminals by identifying legal and technological loopholes for the safety of children.

Ms Carla Licciardello (Policy Analyst at ITU), co-organiser of the session, mapped the social media environment through statistics that showed the popularity, frequency, and volume of content uploaded on social networks.

Highlighting the ITU’s mandate and the work of the Council Working Group dedicated to Child Online Protection, she referred to the four guidelines developed by the ITU, one of which was developed in cooperation with UNICEF. The ITU was now seeking the feedback of young people through an online consultation which will be launched next month.

Licciardello said that we now need to know where we are heading. Some emerging issues included the availability of big data from the ICT services industry, and issues of interoperability and standardisation of big data analytics. The ITU believes that everyone is involved and no-one is immune.

Ms Vidya Natapally (Director of Strategy, Microsoft Research India) highlighted three broad perspectives on technology which needed to be discussed: ways in which technology can make a difference in addressing issues, ways in which technology can enforce policy, and ways in which technology can help tackle problems.

In the private sector, we need to differentiate between large companies like Facebook and Google, which have been putting in huge efforts for child online protection, and small operators who do not have the necessary resources. Ms Annie Mullins Obe (Director of the Safety & Trust Group, with experience in child abuse investigations) said that small operators were in a more challenging position. On the positive side, we are a long way from where we were 15 years ago.

Mr Steve Ahern (Managing Director, Ahern Media & Training, Australia) described the situation in Asia and Australia. In Asia, the range of access to the Internet differs from basic to very sophisticated, which created a challenge in itself. In areas with sophisticated access, perpetrators were using online games to groom children.

In some Asian countries, governments were using child online protection measures as a way to censorship dissident opinions. As a consequence, people are using VPNs to circumvent firewalls. In other countries, sexual exploitation is culturally sanctioned.

There are many parallels in methodologies and strategies between offline crimes and online; however the Internet facilitates and exacerbates the extent of problem. Mr Michael Moran (Assistant Director Vulnerable Communities at Interpol), an Irish policeman with many years of experience in combatting child sexual abuse, referred to the incorrect terminology. ‘Child pornography’ may imply consent, whereas child sexual abuse material shows the abusive nature of the crime.

Interpol’s network rescues more than six children every day. Many are pre-pubescent and pre-speech children, and the vast majority (over 80%) takes place within family circles, and within a continuum. Prevention and empowerment is key.

Ms Susie Hargreaves (Internet Watch Foundation) went through the statistics for 2015, which are also available in the IWF annual report for 2015. The IWF was actively involved through many measures, including a URL blocking list share twice a day with key stakeholders, and a hashlist aimed at identifying the victims and removing the material promptly. The process is fast-tracked whenever a new child is identified through the hashlist.

Col. Faisal Mohammed Al Shimmari (Ministry of Interior, United Arab Emirates), referred to the Internet of Things and the interconnectivity of today’s technology, which increases the risks for children. Stressing that digital divide between law enforcement and criminals was a major issue, he emphasised the need for proper awareness.

by Stephanie Borg Psaila