I am grateful to be here today to brief the committee on behalf of the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland, ISPAI, in respect of cybersecurity for children from a hotline.ie perspective. The hotline.ie mission is to provide Internet users residing in Ireland with a free, secure and confidential reporting service where they may report suspected illegal content, particularly child sexual abuse imagery. We also look to ensure child sexual abuse imagery is notified to law enforcement, irrespective of jurisdiction. When it is hosted in Ireland, we want to ensure it is swiftly removed from ISPAI's member facilities by providing those members with qualified notice for takedown, allowing them to preserve evidence for law enforcement investigation.
It is worth mentioned that hotline.ie is funded by ISPAI members and it is also in receipt of grant aid support from the European Commission. At national level we work with the Garda and the Internet industry, and our procedures are overseen by the Department of Justice and Equality and the Office for Internet Safety. At international level we work with 51 other Internet hotlines in 47 countries worldwide which come together under the umbrella association INHOPE. We also work with Europol and Interpol.
The committee might notice I have used the term "child sexual abuse imagery" instead of the legal term "child pornography". In our line of work, when dealing with potentially criminal content, accuracy is instrumental. Therefore, we prefer to use the term "child sexual abuse imagery" as each image is documented evidence of a crime being committed, a child being sexually exploited and, in many cases, actually raped. Child sexual abuse is a global issue that requires a global co-ordinated response, and to tackle it, a multi-stakeholder approach, where everybody has a role to play in the process, from government to law enforcement to the Internet industry and civil society by reporting content to the hotline.
On my way here this morning, the terms "cybersecurity for children" and "prevention" kept popping into my mind. More often than we would like to admit, we fall victim of one-dimensional or, at most, two-dimensional problem-solving traps. The committee should bear with me. I have attended numerous international conferences, workshops, round-table discussions and presentations, but when it comes to child sexual abuse, the reality is most of our actions are reactive. A child would have already been groomed and sexually abused, and sexually explicit selfies would have been produced and shared. A viewer would already have crossed the line and begun to experience arousal from sexual images of children.
Child sexual abuse has been a reality for many years and I dare say technologies are neither good nor bad but people are. Somehow I feel there is an aspect of this problem that is often unspoken, and that is the offender. Too little research is available, which in turn prevents detection of harmful behaviour and opportunities for early intervention. We are still only exploring what access providers should do and children or parents could and should do. I am not saying what is being done is wrong or unnecessary but rather that perhaps the approach is incomplete.
In 18 years of operation, hotline.ie has received more than 50,000 reports of suspected child sexual abuse imagery. I emphasise that one report could consist of tens or hundreds of images and videos. Of those 50,000 reports, 10% were confirmed by the hotline as child sexual abuse imagery. This translates to one case per day for 18 years. My question is would we not want to know we are doing everything that can be done to prevent this heinous crime from happening.
In a way, our line of work dealing with potentially criminal content is much easier as we have clear criteria set in legislation and procedures set by the Department of Justice and Equality and the Garda. In a nutshell, the work is straightforward as the content is either legal or illegal. However, instigating behaviour change - educating and preventing things happening - is far more challenging. Hotline.ie and all our counterparts worldwide that matter deal with the distribution of online child sexual abuse at source.
Why would we not apply the same principle to prevention? Having viewed child sexual abuse imagery as hotline.ie manager, there is not a day that passes where I do not think about the work that we do, how we could improve it and making sure that we are still fit for purpose and at the forefront of the fight against child sexual abuse imagery. I also consider how we can assist law enforcement in its efforts to identify victims.
As a closing remark, I would like to address two aspects to strengthen and reinforce the position of hotline.ie. While ISPAI members have zero tolerance of child sexual abuse imagery and are as determined as ever to act swiftly against this content, this is a matter for the whole Internet industry, not just access providers. General data protection is becoming more stringent in light of the new general data protection regulation, GDPR, which will come into force in May. Comprehensive legislative amendments are required to ensure protection for civilian organisations running hotline operations.
I am conscious of the time. I thank committee members for listening and look forward to addressing their questions.