Call for joint effort to combat online child pornography


The fight against child abuse over the Internet is often hampered by data protection rules, but a joint effort between privacy authorities, financial institutions and Internet services providers can ensure significant results in line with national laws, according to a new report.

Banks, payment card companies, payment system operators and Internet service providers are invited to increase their collaboration in order to establish a true ‘coalition’ to combat child pornography, suggests the study carried out by the international law firm Allen & Overy on behalf of Missing Children Europe, the European federation of NGOs active against the disappearance and sexual exploitation of children.

The report says the coalition should cooperate with data protection authorities on a European and national level in order to avoid breaching privacy rules. In particular is advised to collaborate at the EU level with the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDSP) and mainly with the Data Protection Working Party, which brings together national privacy authorities.

This relationship is considered to be of great importance because the body “may take views which are even more in favour of data protection than the courts,” according to the report, citing a legal case where this has already occurred.

The Commission expressed immediate support to the report’s suggestion to dismantle a market whose value amounts to several billion euros and which is one of the fastest growing on the Web.

Brussels is currently studying a new set of measures to curb child pornography. Among these is the establishment of points of contact for all actors involved, such as financial institutions and Internet providers, to quickly block illegal websites and payments carried out through them.

Commission Vice-President Jacques Barrot, responsible for Justice, Freedom and Securitycommented: "The commercial sexual exploitation of children online is a fast growing, low-risk and profitable business. The coalition will facilitate properly coordinated law enforcement operations and other complementary disruptive actions against those profiting from this horrendous crime. It will contribute considerably to the protection of the most vulnerable amongst us, children, and to the prosecution of offenders and the confiscation of criminal proceeds."

Missing Children President Francis G. Jacobs said: "Data protection and privacy laws have long been seen as an impediment to ISPs and financial institutions joining the fight against the online commercial sexual exploitation of children. Many believed these laws prevented them from helping authorities track payments to these illegal websites." 

"But Allen & Overy's report shows that ISPs and financial institutions can, by collaborating closely with the authorities and by, amongst other actions, amending their standard terms and conditions agreements, help to destroy these criminals' business models and help authorities successfully prosecute the criminals responsible," he added.

"We know that a number of leaders in the financial and Internet sectors are keen to participate in a pan-European coalition. At the same time, they are looking for guidance to be sure their efforts are not in violation of current laws," said Dirk Meeus, managing partner at Allen & Overy Belgium. "This research provides a solid platform for all of that to take place," he concluded.

The sexual exploitation of children on the Internet is steadily increasing across the EU. Child pornography websites are spreading throughout the Web and the growth in the number of child abuse images is a growing cause for concern. In 2007, the Internet Watch Foundation recorded a 16% rise that year in the UK alone, while Missing Children Europe reckons similar increases occurred in other EU countries.

The EU unveiled a range of initiatives to counter the spread of the phenomenon, such as a 2004 Framework Decision imposing minimum thresholds across the EU for penalties associated with child abuse. The decision also established EU-wide compulsory criminalisation of the sexual exploitation of minors and child pornography.

The European Commission is also considering a mechanism to block purchases of child pornography images through credit cards over the Internet. Visa has already set up a dedicated cell to monitor the Web and prevent illegal use of its payment cards.

  • 2008: Possible finalisation of project for EU 'one-stop-shop' to combat child pornography on the Internet.

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