10% of reported images shown to be child sexual abuse

An Irish hotline established to tackle online images of child sexual abuse has processed over 5,000 confirmed reports of illegal material in its 18-year history, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

10% of reported images shown to be child sexual abuse

The head of the service warned TDs and senators that a single report “may equate to hundreds of images and or videos”.

Ana Niculescu, the manager of Hotline.ie told the Oireachtas committee on children and youth affairs that it has received more than 50,000 reports since it was founded in 1999 by an association representing over 50 internet service providers including Google, Eir, 3, BT and Vodafone.

Ms Niculescu said of these reports, 10% were confirmed by Hotline analysts as child sexual abuse imagery under Irish law — a rate of almost one a day.

While just 0.65% of the content was hosted in Ireland, Ms Niculescu said this is indicative of how the spread of child sexual abuse imagery is a global problem.

Hotline.ie is run by the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland, works in conjunction with the gardaí, and is overseen by the Department of Justice. However, Ms Niculescu said more needs to be done to tackle online child abuse imagery.

“Having viewed child sexual abuse imagery as Hotline manager there isn’t a day that passes without me thinking about the work that we do, how we could improve it, and making sure that we are still fit for purpose and that we are at the forefront of the fight against child sexual abuse imagery,” she said.

Among the measures Ms Niculescu recommended to the committee was the provision of access for Hotline to premium accounts for file and image hosting services, where an increasing proportion of child sexual abuse imagery is found. Hotline says last year 24% of child sexual abuse imagery was found on such services, compared to 13% in 2015.

She also asked for “comprehensive” legislative measures “to ensure protection for civilian organisations authorised by Government to operate and conduct Hotline activities” in light of the forthcoming EU General Data Protection Regulation, due next May.

Ms Niculescu warned that teen sexting — where minors willingly take provocative images of themselves before sending them to others — is on the rise.

“In recent years, Hotline analysts have witnessed a marked increase of sexually provocative self-generated images of children and adolescents turning up on adult pornography forums or sites,” she said in her submission to the committee.

“These images and videos are mostly not illegal or borderline, also known as ‘grey images’, but have been copied from the originators’ social networking profiles, placed out of context on adult sites and associated comments show they are being misused by paedophiles. As the material is not in itself illegal, Hotline and law enforcement are largely unable to act,” she warned.

Officials from the Department of Education also appeared at the meeting, and were quizzed by committee members as to what is being done to help teachers, parents, and children.

Ms Niculescu told the committee Ireland has a “cart before the horse” approach to children’s use of the internet.

“We struggle so much to make sure children have the digital skills to use technology, but do they have the maturity and know how to deal with their emotions and the consequences of their actions online?” she said.

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