The ISPCC today joined international child protection experts for a major roundtable event to probe re-setting the debate on end-to-end encryption in private messaging services to ensure the safety and privacy of children is protected.
The organisation which delivers the Childline service and advocates on behalf of children and young people in Ireland welcomed the opportunity to partake in the event hosted by the NSPCC (UK), which warns that ‘private messaging is the frontline of child sexual abuse’ online.
Major technology firms currently use a range of tools to identify child abuse imagery and to detect grooming and sexual abuse across online communications. Today’s event took place amidst fears that Facebook’s proposals to install end-to-end encryption on Facebook Messenger and Instagram would render these tools useless.
The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill is currently being examined by the Joint Committee on Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht. The Bill does not plan to have encrypted services within the scope of the proposed Online Safety Commissioner.
ISPCC Chief Executive John Church said: “The ISPCC was delighted to take part in today’s important roundtable event on this key child safety online matter. Children have a right to be safe online, just as they do offline. We know from the children and young people who turn to Childline, however, that they can face potential risks and dangers, particularly when it comes to private messaging communications.
“The ISPCC has long championed children’s safety online and welcomed the commencement of the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act on Safer Internet Day 2021 as an important measure in helping to safeguard children online. However, further action remains necessary in order to tackle the evolving risks which children can be exposed to. The ISPCC continues to call on government to ensure that children, young people and families can lodge individual complaints against online service providers when their rights are not respected online, and where services fail to respond efficiently and effectively.
“While end-to-end encryption can be positive for privacy, it can place children at significant risk. Of the record 21.7million child abuse referrals reported by the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in 2020, 93 per cent came from Facebook platforms. On the one hand Facebook is to be commended for the level of detection and reporting it carries out. However, should these services be encrypted and the tools no longer used, the abuse does not stop, it is just no longer being detected. What will happen to the children in these images and to the children who are being groomed?
“Today’s event was timely as important online safety legislation is passing through respective parliaments in Ireland and the UK. Encryption is important, as too are the tools that detect child abuse and protect children online. A concerted effort is required by all to understand how these two can co-exist. We look forward to playing our part in advocating for further engagement on this important child safety online issue.”