Updates

Child safety online

2018

Following the implementation of 2017 Digital Economy Act, the United Kingdom’s Department for Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) has introduced new age verification rules in order to limit children’s exposure to pornographic content. Such regulations apply only to sites which make pornographic content available on a commercial basis. Hence, this excludes social media, image sharing platforms (e.g.Imgur, Tumblr, Twitter and Reddit) and sites where such content is available for free and where "it is reasonable for the age-verification regulator to assume that pornographic material makes up less than one-third of the content of the material made available.”

Five Country Ministerial Statement on Countering the Illicit Use of Online Spaces reiterated the commitment of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States to protect their citizens from child predators, terrorists, violent extremists and other illicit actors. The Statement calls for escalated government and industry efforts to stop sexual exploitation of children, including live-streaming of child sexual abuse on all platforms. The five countries stressed that digital industry must take responsibility to reduce the availability of online terrorist and violent extremist content across all platforms and applications, and urged industry leaders to champion more rapid responses. The countries committed to building their capacity to protect and defend the most vulnerable by enhancing information exchange, strengthen cross-sectoral collaboration, share enforcement capabilities with industry to support solutions. A senior officials group which will monitor industry progress and report on them will be established.

UK’s Digital Secretary Matt Hancock has announced new plans to create regulation to ensure that ‘the UK is the safest place in the world to be online’. According to the British government, there is a lack of sufficient oversight or transparency for technology companies, resulting in inappropriate and harmful content online, ranging from cyberbullying and intimidation to online child sexual exploitation and extremist material. While working closely with industry, the government will work on a white paper, to be published later this year, which will draft legislation against digital harms. The move is part of the UK’s Internet Safety Strategy.

After its approval by the US House of Representatives, a controversial online sex trafficking bill has now been approved by the US Senate. The bill is seen by many an important step in fighting online prostitution of teenagers. At the same time, the bill has become a controversial topic of discussion, as it will hold Internet companies liable for the content on their platforms. Some Internet freedom organisations even claim that the bill will lead to censorship; ‘silencing Internet users doesn’t make us safer’, and others argue that the passing of the bill constitutes ‘a major legislative loss for Silicon Valley’.

Beh Lih Yi of the Thomson Reuters Foundation reports on a study partnered by Interpol and ECPAT International that shows boys are more likely than girls to suffer the worst online sexual abuse. According to Yi, 'Although girls account for two-thirds of the victims, the latest study said online images or videos depicting boys, including very young children, often involve more severe abuse, such as sadism and other forms of sexual assault.' In its announcement of the study, Interpol highlighted the high percentage of prepubescent victims; the high priority of identifying offenders; the high proportion of material which was both abusive and exploitative; the challenge of determining core characteristics of victims; and the roles of women and youth among other important points.

The European Commission has recommended a set of operational measures for states and the Internet industry in an effort to improve their response to illegal online content, including ‘terrorist content, incitement to hatred and violence, child sexual abuse material, counterfeit products and copyright infringement.’ According EU’s Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, Andrus Ansip, illegal content represents ‘a serious threat to our citizens’ security, safety and fundamental rights’. One of the recommendations in the context of terrorist content is the ‘one-hour rule’: harmful terrorist content needs to be removed within one hour after it has been flagged. After monitoring the response to the recommendation, the Commission will determine whether additional steps, such as legislation, are necessary. The Internet industry has expressed discontent for not having been consulted first, and argued that the one-hour rule might not be workable. According to European Digital Rights, the recommendation risks ‘putting ‘Internet giants in charge of censoring Europe’.

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