Seanad to urge new laws for Irish ISPs to block child abuse material

24 Feb 2012

A group of senators will next week put forward a private members motion urging Justice Minister Alan Shatter TD to put in place legislation that will require Irish internet service providers (ISPs) to block child abuse material (CAM) in Ireland.

The independent group of senators nominated by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, including Senators Jillian van Turnhout, Martin McAleese, Fiach MacConghail, Mary Ann O’Brien, Marie Louise O’Donnell and Katherine Zappone will bring the motion next Wednesday.

“Ideally the Minister will accept the motion and agree to bring the legislation,” Senator van Turnhout told Silicon Republic.

She pointed out that child abuse material – which actively shows real abuse being inflicted on children – is blocked in the UK, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries, but not Ireland.

The motion will point to the a 13 December EU directive aimed at combating sexual abuse and child pornography that requires EU Member States to remove web pages that contain child abuse material (child abuse material) in their jurisdiction.

It also calls for legislation that will direct Irish ISPs to block child pornography hosted overseas.

The motion calls on the government to ratify UN and Council of Europe protocols and conventions geared to protect children from sexual abuse and child pornography signed in 2000 and 2007 respectively.

The motion also calls for the creation of a victim identification database and management system which is directed at identifying child victims, prosecuting offenders and disrupting crime networks.

Why won’t Irish ISPs block CAM?

In Ireland the only telecoms service providers that block CAM on their networks are the mobile operators who do so as part of their membership of the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA).

The independent group of senators received a presentation on the state of CAM in Ireland and overseas this week by Garda Mick Moran who is also deputy director of cyber crime at Interpol, and Pat McKenna of Childwatch, an organisation that has briefed over 20,000 secondary students, teachers and parents about the dangers of CAM.

The Gardai Siochana are also anxious that the ISPs block child pornography but so far these requests have fallen on deaf ears.

Senator van Turnhout says she expects the Irish ISPs to try and confuse the devastating issue of child pornography with the recent SOPA debate and copyright, which is a completely different matter.

“The reality that Irish people need to realise is that people who view child pornography are witnesses to a crime against a child. When you look at the figures it is shocking – in terms of the victim profile 69pc of children being abused in CAM are under the age of 10. Four percent are under the age of three.

“People who view CAM gravitate towards the younger age group because the children cannot articulate what is happening to them.

“This is not about censorship – there will be those who will try to blur the issue with SOPA – this is clearly about human rights.”

I express to Senator van Turnhout my bewilderment at why in the UK ISPs there voluntarily agree to block CAM yet in Ireland the ISPs are avoiding the issue.

“Part of me would say I don’t think we fully understand child protection in Ireland or have fully comprehended the lessons of the past. While we are comfortable about discussing the abuses of the past, would someone willingly report on a neighbour if a child is at risk if the perpetrator is someone who is in respectable employment?”

Van Turnhout hit on another important subject – mandatory reporting of child abuse – which still needs to be enshrined in Irish law.

“This requires reporting the facts as we see them, but people aren’t comfortable with that concept. In the past when children in Ireland were put in institutions I suspect that people in wider society had a good idea of what was happening.”

Van Turnhout says that where blocking of CAM is enforced the scale of the problem is apparent.

“Norway is a country of a similar size to Ireland. If someone tries to access a blocked page the page will say it is blocked and the person can email if they don’t believe the page should be blocked. Norway blocks 12,000 pages a day, that’s a country the same size as Ireland.

“BT in the UK blocks 40,000 requests a day, New Zealand is another country on the same scale as Ireland and it blocks 13m requests a year.

“The Irish ISPs say they can’t block 100pc of the material but they are not even trying. Blocking even 90pc would be great. If you look at Norway’s figure of 12,000 pages being blocked daily you have to wonder in Ireland if people you know are accessing this material.”

Impact on victims

As well as the heinous nature of what is happening to the children in CAM actively being accessed here in Ireland, van Turnhout says the mental scars on the children stay with them for years to follow.

“If you are a child victim here in Ireland whose image has been used – more than likely you will be wondering who has been looking at those images when you comprehend what has happened to you.

“As these children become teens they often have to go back for counseling because of the weight they have to carry in their minds. Every where they go they will be wondering if those images have been accessed by people they meet.”

Van Turnhout said that the motion will be brought before the Seanad on Wednesday evening at about 5pm after which the motion will be brought before Cabinet.

“Then we will really see where the Irish Government stands on the issue. The worst case scenario is if the Government says it is up to the ISPs to fight CAM.

“We are calling on the Irish Government to take the initiative.”

Van Turnhout says that it will be up to the Minister for Justice and Equality Alan Shatter to bring forward legislation to block CAM on the internet in Ireland.

“There is no evidence the ISPs will block CAM on a voluntary basis as they have in other countries so we are requesting legislation.

“As a group of senators we are absolutely convinced action needs to be taken. If the Justice Minister doesn’t bring forward legislation we will bring forward a Bill ourselves,” van Turnhout promised.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years