child using computer

Internet child protection rules agreed by governments and tech firms

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A set of actions that firms must take to safeguard children on the internet has been agreed upon by a group of governments and endorsed by major technology firms.

The 'Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse' are a set of 11 actions that need to be taken to ensure children are not sexually exploited on online platforms.

The 'Principles' range from pledges to stop the appearance of existing and new child sexual abuse material; taking steps to stop the livestreaming of abuse; identifying and stopping grooming and predatory behaviour, and ensuring they are ahead of the evolving threat.

In July 2019, the Five Country Ministerial – made up of the governments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the USA – agreed to draft the principles, given the global nature of child sexual abuse. They were written in consultation with technology industry representatives.

As the proposals were launched in the US, they were endorsed by tech giants including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, TikTok, Twitter and Snap.

The technology firms who have endorsed the scheme have said they will now promote and support them, as well as taking part in a collaboration between government and industry to help create a safer online environment.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “It is truly horrific that thousands of sick paedophiles are preying on vulnerable children from across the world. This scandal requires our global partners to work together and these principles provide a blueprint for delivering just that.

“I want this landmark collaboration across borders and sectors to define a stronger, new, united approach.”

Last year, the tech industry reported 69 million child sexual abuse images and videos – up by over 50 per cent in just 12 months.

In March 2019, the Met Police said they were “overwhelmed” by a surge in online child sexual abuse and exploitation cases.

According to the National Strategic Assessment, more than 3.5 million accounts are now registered to what are considered the world’s most dangerous dark web sites.

In coordinated operational activity against online child sexual exploitation and abuse, the National Crime Agency and UK police arrest around 500 child sex offenders a month and safeguard around 700 children a month.

The UK Government is also working on new legislation around online harms, including placing a statutory duty of care on tech companies to keep their users safe, overseen by an independent regulator.

The voluntary principles set out by the collection of governments are seen as a way of clearly focusing global efforts to improve online safety, beyond legislation in specific countries.

Security minister James Brokenshire said, “We cannot allow children to fall victim to predators who lurk in the shadows of the web. Through global collaboration and with enhanced action from the five countries, law enforcement agencies and tech companies, we will ensure that children are protected online.”

WeProtect Global Alliance, a group comprised of 97 governments, 25 technology companies and 30 civil society organisations, has also said it will promote the new principles across the industry and support the initiative.

According to figures from the NSPCC published earlier this year, around 90 online abuse crimes against children have been recorded every day since the Government introduced its online harms white paper last year.

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