‘Gardaí need more powers to tackle online child abuse’

Gardaí need greater powers to protect children from online predators including the ability to obtain data from companies such as Facebook and Microsoft.

This is the recommendation of Dr Geoffrey Shannon, the Government’s special rapporteur on child protection, who delivered his 10th annual report yesterday.

He made a number of child protection recommendations relating to cybercrime, sexual abuse, grooming for criminal activity, and housing.

“It cannot be denied that mobile devices are now very powerful computers with the memory capacity to contain many thousands of images, text, and video files that constitute child pornography, along with ICT [information and communications technology] evidence of grooming, solicitation, sexual exploitation and important evidence relating to contact sexual offences,” said Dr Shannon.

He said that the rapid advancement of technology meant gardaí needed more powers, including the ability to search a person without a warrant, when they have a reasonable cause to suspect an individual.

“To reflect this modern situation, An Garda Síochána should be provided with a power similar to Section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Acts [to search without a warrant based on reasonable suspicion].”

Commenting further on the advancement of technology, Dr Shannon said gardaí need to be able to seek a court order to obtain data from internet giants based here, such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft.

“For the investigation of child pornography and sexual offences cases against children where ICT is involved, An Garda Síochána should be provided with the power to obtain a production order in respect of data that is either “held or accessible” by content providers based in Ireland,” he said.

Another recommendation included the introduction of a “Fagin’s Law”, a “stand-alone statutory offence targeted at adults who groom children to carry out criminal offences.”

He also said that “the availability of social housing and emergency housing support should be increased as a matter of priority.”

The ISPCC and One in Four both welcomed Dr Shannon’s report yesterday.

“Dr Shannon recognises the significant change that the child protection system in Ireland has undergone in recent years, but states that, when viewed against international standards, further improvement is required,” said ISPCC chief executive, Grainia Long.

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