The UK’s home secretary urged her peers from the G7 governments on Wednesday (8 September) to support London’s push to hold tech companies accountable for harmful content, while also launching a new fund to counter child sexual abuse online.
Priti Patel called on her counterparts from the Group of Seven (G7) industrialised countries and social media companies to better address the safety of children in the digital sphere during a summit hosted by the UK’s G7 presidency.
“The UK is a world leader in tackling child sexual abuse online, and it is vital that the G7 and technology companies alike step up to protect children and victims from sick perpetrators and crack down on this abhorrent crime,” Patel said.
She also announced the launch of the Safety Tech Challenge Fund, a financial instrument intended to help tackle online child sexual abuse. The fund will support researchers and tech experts to develop technologies that better keep into consideration children safety, something the UK government consider online platforms have fallen short of.
John Clark, president and CEO at the National Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), welcomed the initiative.
“The NCMEC applauds the launch of the UK’s Safety Tech Challenge Fund. Last year we received more than 21 million reports relating to child sexual exploitation, and the numbers of reports this year are likely to be even higher,” Clark said.
The new fund launched on Wednesday a global competition that will award five organisations up to £85,000 each to find creative solutions that ensure children’s safety when using end-to-end encrypted messaging services.
The initiative fits in a broader discussion on the use of end-to-end encryption, as several policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic have been calling for service providers to provide special access to encrypted communications to law enforcement authorities.
Leanda Barrington-Leach, head of EU affairs at the 5Rights Foundation, said that “privacy and safety do not have to be in conflict – the tragedy is that with the standoff between child protection and privacy communities, we are letting companies profit who simply should not be able to trade if they can’t do so without spreading CSEA [Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse].”
Australia’s e-safety commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, said that “encryption is a many-layered, complex issue that requires detailed consideration and thoughtful review in order to minimise the potential for harm and ensure that a suitable balance is struck between security, privacy and safety”.
In July, the EU adopted a temporary measure that allows electronic communication service providers to voluntarily scan private conversations in search of child sexual abuse materials. The interim provision is set to be replaced by the ePrivacy directive, a controversial piece of legislation that has been stuck since 2017.
“The EU, with its commitment to a regulated digital world, is well-positioned to take a strong stand on behalf of children. Many of the push factors that encourage the spread of child sexual abuse are routinely ignored by platforms whose business mantra is growth at all cost – these should be tackled in EU legislation,” 5Rights’ Barrington-Leach added.
The Commission expects to present a proposal for comprehensive legislation to fight child sexual abuse, both online and offline, before the end of the year.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]