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Child porn tip-offs soar
Pic: Shutterstock

19 Oct 2018 / crime Print

Soaring child porn tip-offs almost double in a year

A total of 7,591 abusive internet images were reported in Ireland in 2017, of which 5,789 were of child sexual abuse. 

Of these tip-offs, 524 were confirmed as offences under the law, with each of these leads usually leading to hundreds and thousands of abusive images and/or videos. 

While there was a 44 per cent jump in this type of imagery published online, none of it was traced to the Republic.

That’s according to Hotline.ie which is run by the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland (ISPAI) and has just published its annual report for 2017.

“The Internet is intricate, extremely fluid and borderless,” says the Hotline.ie report.

It says that online child sexual abuse may be “a borderless crime, due to the very nature of the digital world, but it is not a faceless crime and there is nothing virtual about the child’s suffering”.

The US (236 cases) and the Netherlands (62 cases) are the leading sources of abusive imagery.

One in five of the leads reported was a disguised website solely used for propagating child abuse imagery.

Disguised websites

A disguised website reveals the illegal imagery only to someone who has followed a pre-defined digital pathway, otherwise it displays legal content.

The illegal material is often pulled from different hosting locations as a failsafe to ensure availability even if the site is taken down.

Due to rapid child sex abuse image movement patterns, content reported in one jurisdiction almost always ends up being traced to another jurisdiction.

The Hotline.ie service was launched in November 1999 to provide an anonymous reporting service to those who accidentally uncover illegal content on the internet, particularly of abusive material.

Hotline.ie runs content analysis which sifts through thousands of public reports to identify quality leads, using an encrypted report management system.

Content verified as probably illegal is submitted, along with the audit trail, directly to the Paedophile Investigation Unit of the Garda National Protective Services Bureau. 

Triage

Hotline.ie’s triage function is not a criminal investigation, however, but the first step in a law enforcement probe.

The organisation relies totally on public reporting as it is not mandated to proactively search out child sexual abuse imagery online.

Hotline.ie says it has “a robust self-regulation model” which is effective in the combat against abusive imagery. 

Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland Ltd interim chair Paul Cunnane says that an effective “notice and takedown” regulation system depends upon active participation.

He wants all Irish-based service and content providers to sign up to the “notice and takedown” mechanism.

The service promises to be secure, anonymous and confidential. Online content which is in violation of Irish law is referred to as illegal content which is objectively defined under the legislation. 

Controversial or offensive content is defined subjectively and while not illegal, is referred to as harmful content – such as porn, violence or age-inappropriate advertising.

Sexual abuse, coercion or exploitation of children are offences under the 

Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 

1998 [as amended by the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017]. 

The 2017 legislative amendments were designed to further enhance  the protection of children and are in alignment with international legal instruments such as the EU Directive 2011/93/EU.

The range of offences associated with child pornography is widened to ensure that anyone who participates in any way in the creation, distribution, viewing or sharing of such material cannot escape the law. 

Additionally “inviting, inducing, counselling, inciting or coercing a child to observe, engage or participate in any sexual, indecent or obscene act” is also an offence.

The report says that online child sexual abuse may be “a borderless crime, due to the very nature of the digital world, but it is not a faceless crime and there is nothing virtual about the child’s suffering”.

Torture

Over half of the child sexual abuse images reported last year were of sexual activity between adult and children, including rape and torture.

Eleven per cent of the imagery involved children under three, 76 per cent involved children aged four to twelve and 13 per cent involved children aged 13 to 16.

The internet industry self-regulation model provides for a “notice and takedown” mechanism which preserves forensic evidence for law-enforcement investigation.

Takedown orders

Member companies are obliged to maintain effective standards of co-operation with takedown orders. Hotline.ie is also mandated for the development of acceptable usage policies.

Hotline.ie acknowledges however that greater government regulation will not make harmful or dangerous use of the internet disappear, though online safety is clearly a matter of public interest and policy.

The National Action Plan for Online Safety launched by the Taoiseach in July 2018 reinforces the need for collaborative effort between government, law enforcement agencies and the industry.

Misuse technology

“As with just about everything that has ever been invented, there will always be ones to misuse technology and the internet for criminal purposes,” the report points out.

Online child sexual abuse is not a new and distinct form of sexual abuse, but rather a new manifestation facilitated by technological change, it says.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland