Safeguarding podcast – Strangers in the mind of the child with Ernie Allen, Chair WPGA

In this safeguarding podcast with Ernie Allen, Chair of the WeProtect Global Alliance, we discuss the impact of the World Wide Web on the distribution of Child Sexual Abuse material, the Model National Response, the Global Strategic Response and whether the UN’s Sustainability goal of ending violence and abuse against children by 2030 can be achieved.

There’s a lightly edited transcript of the podcast below for those that can’t use podcasts, or for those that simply prefer to read.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay so welcome to another edition of the safety net foundation safeguarding podcast where we talk about all things to do with safeguarding children in the online digital context. Child safeguarding in the online digital context is at the intersection of technology, law, and ethics and culture and it encompasses all stakeholders between the child using a smart phone and the content or person online that they are interacting with.

March, 2019 saw the World Wide Web celebrate its 30th birthday and today’s guest has been involved in online child safety for just as long and has an illustrious CV in this area. I would like to welcome to the podcast, Ernie Allen, Chair of the WeProtect Global Alliance. Thank you Ernie for making time to join us.

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

Oh, thank you Neil. Good to be with you.

Neil Fairbrother

Ernie, can you give us a brief resumé of your career and tell us what the we protect the global irons is?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

Yes. Very briefly, I was a founding Chair of the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States, Head of that organization as Chair and then as CEO for 28 years. I was a founder of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children and ran it for 16 years. I stepped down in 2014 and three days after I stepped down, I received a call from 10 Downing Street in London, which indicated that the then Prime Minister David Cameron was very concerned about these issues and was convening a summit in London at Lancaster House in December, 2014 and asked me to come.

I was asked to introduce the Prime Minister for his keynote address and from that address, from that meeting, which brought together political leaders from around the world, Prime Minister Cameron and the UK government launched the WeProtect initiative and the Prime Minister asked if I would chair it.

It’s been an extraordinary experience. It continues to grow. As you know, since you were with us and at Addis Ababa, we now have 97 member countries, 25 major technology companies that have signed on and 30 international and civil society organizations including organizations like UNICEF, Interpol and others. So it is designed as a multi-stakeholder initiative, not just governments, but the vision is that governments working with the technology sector and civil society can address what we believe has become a global epidemic.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. Now you’re also involved with the Child Dignity Alliance. What is the Child Dignity Alliance?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

Well, in 2017, I was one of the organizers of a World Congress, held at the Vatican, to focus on what’s happening to children online. We felt that was a logical extension of the child abuse issue generally that the Vatican and the Church was grappling with and provided an opportunity for Pope Francis and the Church to lead on these kinds of issues.

So it was an extraordinary meeting held in Rome in October, 2017. The Pope made a powerful speech and as a result of that, there was interest on the part of many of the participants to do something else, to take that speech, to take the findings of the World Congress and create a global initiative to implement in that area. So the desire was not to create another NGO, not to compete with all of the other NGOs in this space but to take positive steps, so we called it a “coalition of the willing”.

So on a purely voluntary basis, a number of organizations came together, identified a strategic plan, focusing on the need to build awareness about these problems, to develop new technologies, to bring new and additional research and academic study into this area to address issues like the role of the tech sector. And we looked at things that really go beyond the WeProtect focus.

For example, one of the other things that the Prime Minister had proposed, Prime Minister Cameron, is a kind of Age Verification scenario so that we begin to build in the cyber world and the digital world the same kinds of protections to keep children away from harmful content that we’ve had in the physical world for generations. So the Child Dignity Alliance has operated, again as a voluntary initiative, a coalition of the willing, seeking to advance a series of goals.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. Now the Child Dignity Alliance had another conference in the Vatican in November of last year called Promoting Digital Child Dignity, from Concept to Action. What did that mean, from concept to action?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

Well, I think what it meant was there are a lot of people talking about these problems and Pope Francis had said in another powerful message and expressed his willingness to engage with the tech sector to bring them together. I think that the concept was, it’s not enough just to talk about these issues, it’s not enough simply to try to teach parents how they can protect their children online and to give children tools and information about how to stay safe online, all of which is very positive and we support.

But I think the sense is the sheer scale of this problem had reached a point where it takes new kinds of initiatives. It takes the tech sector to really engage, to develop new technologies. So the concept of the meeting, it was held at the Pontifical Academy of Science, so the notion was to bring together science and tech leaders and others to look for real action steps that can be taken to address this exploding phenomenon.

Neil Fairbrother

Yes. And I think the Pope said at this conference in his opening address that “…the challenge before us is to ensure that children have safe access to these technologies, i.e. internet-based technologies, while at the same time ensuring their healthy and serene development and protecting them from unacceptable criminal violence or grave harm”. Do you think that that balance is actually achievable?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

I do. I don’t think it will be easy to achieve because where we are is, I think everyone recognizes the power and the importance of the internet and technology, it’s changed the way we live, it’s changed the way we learn, but there’s a dark side. And one of the primary concerns that we tried to address in that meeting is how we can do more than simply talk about this.

In many ways, these companies have become almost super-states beyond the reach of mere national laws and so the question was, what more can we do? in case after case, in situation after situation, we have heard that these kinds of abuses are the unintended consequences of the uses of positive technologies that are good for humanity. And part of the challenge we tried to raise at that meeting in November in Rome is how we can begin to anticipate those unanticipated consequences and deal with them before they become problems.

And this is particularly complicated and difficult in this era in which there is movement toward end-to-end encryption in the name of absolute privacy of protecting the privacy of users. And one of the points we tried to make at that meeting was we should be just as concerned about protecting the privacy of the child victims of these abuses. So the goal is to try to engage the tech sector, initiate new kinds of approaches, including new technologies, that create a more balanced approach. We’re very much pro-technology, very much pro-internet, but we think it has to be addressed with the protection of children uppermost in our mind.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. Now we started by saying that the World Wide Web had celebrated its 30th year last year. Now I think you said that the event in Rome that “…by 1989, the problem of child sexual exploitation images had all but disappeared then came the internet and perhaps more importantly, the World Wide Web” So Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, he and his Foundation have recently published what he hopes will be a contribution to solving this problem called “A New Contract for the Web”. Do you think that that will help?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

Well, I do. And I think that’s exactly the kind of approach that we need to be taking and exactly what we’re trying to foster through the WeProtect Global Alliance. In my remarks in Rome, I made the point that the Supreme Court of the United States, only in the early 1980s, had said that what we then called child pornography was not protected speech. It was child abuse.

So for the first time in the US and around the world, we began to address these issues from a different frame, from a different perspective. And as a result of that law enforcement crackdown we began to address the importation of content, most of which was printed content at the time. We cracked down on this distribution through the mail and it worked. The aggressive enforcement effort worked, but then came the internet.

And in an effort to protect the free and flowing ideas through the internet, many countries created protections that made them almost untouchable. For example, in the US, Congress passed a law that said internet providers are not responsible for what people do on their sites. It was Section 230 of what was called the Communications Decency Act.

What that has created is a situation in which people are able to do virtually anything on these sites without any responsibility to the companies, to the operators, and our message in Rome, our message from WeProtect and in other ways is these companies need to begin to assume some responsibility and many of them have done great things. They have trained, they’ve invested in teaching parents and kids how to use these tools safely. But in my view, that’s not enough. In my view, they have a higher obligation and so they need to be full partners in the effort to solve what the New York Times recently called a crisis. It has become a full blown crisis and theworld in our view doesn’t yet fully recognize that.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. Now the output of that event in Rome was a six point action plan. We don’t have time, unfortunately, to go into that in a lot of detail, but what measures of success were included in that six point action plan? How will you know when those six goals have been achieved and being effective?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

Well, Neil, you raise a really important point because one of the elements of that action plan is research. One of our greatest challenges in this area is that while there are anecdotal data, there as yet is no global assessment of how extensive this problem is, how prevalent is the sexual abuse and exploitation of children by technology.

So part of that commitment is to begin to fill that void. We have lots of anecdotal data. For example, we know that my former organization, the National Centre, handled 18.4 million reports of child sexual abuse material last year alone. We know that the Canadian Centre has identified 13 million suspicious images and has sent directives of take down notices, nearly 5 million take down notices. We know that the Internet Watch Foundation in the UK indicates that nearly 40% of the child sexual abuse material that they’ve identified on the internet involves children 10 years old and younger. So we had those kinds of data.

But the overwhelming problem is that while the reporting of child sexual abuse generally has climbed in recent years, and that’s an encouraging sign, we now estimate roughly one in three we find out about when there’s an image or a video that memorializes that abuse, these kids simply don’t tell. So overwhelmingly this remains a problem of hidden victims and for policymakers around the world, if you can’t prove that something is an issue, it must not be a problem. So one of the key goals is research.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. So somehow presumably we have to create a climate where children don’t feel afraid, assuming they do feel afraid, and that’s what’s stopping them from reporting, they don’t feel afraid to report what’s happened?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

That’s exactly right. And one of the complicators of this is that the vast majority of the perpetrators of this abuse are not strangers in the mind of the child. They’re family members, they’re friends, they’re associates, people in their neighbourhood. And particularly with the advent of the Dark Web and the fact that now these child abuse and exploitation sites in many cases require those who join these groups to provide content that nobody’s ever seen before. Well, how are you going to do that? What you’re going to do is create your own, and that overwhelmingly is going to involve children, child victims, who are close to you, who have your trust. So this is really an insidious problem.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. Now, a few years ago, in 2016, the WeProtect Global Alliance published a Model National Response which was designed to prevent and to tackle child sexual exploitation and abuse. What is the Model National Response?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

Neil, the Model National Response is a framework. It is intended to be a guide for every country. A checklist of things we hope that leaders in those countries will address. Issues like law. Is there appropriate legislation? Are these kinds of acts actually criminalized in individual countries? Is there dedicated law enforcement? Are there the resources in place to investigate and follow up? Are there victim services? Is there a reporting mechanism? Are there societal tools like hotlines and offender systems? Is there a plan for industry leadership and engagement? Are companies in each country aware of this and addressing it? And is there communications? Is there awareness among the people of the country?

So this is a multifaceted strategy. We don’t tell countries “You need to do all of this”. We provide it to countries as a kind of guide, as a framework for their policy making and their action. And the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. It is a detailed document, it’s quite chunky. It takes a while to get through, but it does have a beautifully designed table that summarizes the whole plan, and we could spend all day discussing this one table, but there are four points that I would like to quickly address if I may, and that’s in the societal section. And the four points are: CSEA hotline, which you just mentioned, Education Program, Child Participation and Offender Support Systems.

So the CSEA hotline; do all countries now have them?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

No, but the numbers are growing and I particularly want to pay tribute to the UK’s Internet Watch Foundation, which has been a leader in helping to develop and implement these hotlines in other countries. There’s also an organization called InHope based in the Netherlands, which is a kind of network of hotlines around the world. So the numbers are growing and it begins with the premise that there needs to be an easy way for children and for those who have knowledge and information about these acts to report it. Government can’t respond, law enforcement can’t respond, social services can’t respond, if we never know about these acts.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay, on the Education Program issue, it’s for children, parents, teachers, practitioners, faith leaders and so on. It seems to me that we’ve been educating children about this for years, but this abuse still happens. So is education all that effective really, or do we need to rethink how we educate to children and young people on this issue?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

Well, I think our view is that we need to rethink it. Again, as you point out, and I think we’ve probably educated most children multiple times about these tools, but the technology changes, the technology evolves. Today children, many children, probably most children carry the internet around in their hands by a mobile device. So children are not accessing the internet via the PC in the family room at home anymore under the watchful eyes of their parents. They are now accessing this content at younger and younger ages. So I think we have to do it in a different way. Education is important. It’s not a panacea, but I certainly think we have to rethink the way we do it.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. The third point is Child Participation, which talks about children and young people having a voice in the development of policy and practice. Do you see that actually happening? Do the lawmakers, for example, in the UK, in Parliament or in the States, in the Senate, do they actually talk to children and take note of what they say?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

Well, I don’t think they do that in a substantive way. And part of what we’re committed to doing is changing the dynamic. For example, we are launching a project now with the support of the Porticus Foundation in the Netherlands, which will mobilize kids, create almost a kind of global youth summit to engage kids in this dialogue. They know more about how this problem occurs and affects them than anybody else, so I think we have to make the input from youth far more substantive and far more pervasive.

As you saw at our summit in Addis Ababa, there was a young man who spoke as part of the Nigerian delegation who I think represented great hope for the future of the world. He was articulate, he was concerned about this problem. He spoke for the kids of the world. And there weren’t enough kids at our summit in Addis, so we hope to change that by the time we do another summit, but it is critical that we listen to and learn from the world’s youth.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. And the fourth and final section in the Societal part of the table is Offender Support Systems, medical, psychological, self-help, and awareness. And again, this abuse continues to happen even though we’ve been providing these kinds of offenders support systems for years. So again, is it time for a rethink about how we treat offenders, how we deal with them?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

Well, one of the things I would argue is while I think the UK has been a leader in this spot, in most of the world, I don’t think this has happened. One of the people who have participated in the Rome summit in 2017 is a Canadian researcher, perhaps one of the world’s great scholars in the area of paedophilia and his conservative estimate…

Neil Fairbrother

This is Michael Seto, is it?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

Michael Seto. His conservative estimate is that at least 1% of the male population is aroused by paedophilic stimuli. 3% by hebophilia stimuli, meaning early pubescent children. You know, 1% of the male population is 35 million people. Now that doesn’t mean that all 35 million are going to physically offend against a child, but the reality of the situation is we’re not going to be able to arrest and prosecute 35 million people or even a tiny percentage of that.

So we need to develop mechanisms to intervene sooner. And because of the stigma associated with paedophilia in much of the world, there are not yet the resources in place. I pay tribute to StopItNow in the UK, tribute to the project in Germany, and there are other places where this is happening. But we need to address this issue not just from a criminal justice perspective, but as a public health challenge, intervene sooner and stop these offenses from happening in the first place.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. Now the Internet Service Providers of the world, certainly as far as the UK is concerned, operate what they call a “mere conduit defence”. In other words, they are simply a providing a “pass through” service. They are not responsible for the content. They don’t want to be judge and jury of the online content. They are just providing a connectivity service. Can this framework be used to corral the industry into a child safety first mindset?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

We hope so. And I think there’s progress. But you’re right, the attitude around the world is “No, we’re just providing the wires. What people do on the wires is somebody else’s problem”. Well that’s not good enough.

And for example, there’s been great progress made in terms of using a tool developed by Microsoft called PhotoDNA, which matches the hash values, the unique digital fingerprints of identified child sexual abuse images. But what is happening today is a movement toward end-to-end encryption. So for example, the ePrivacy regulation in the EU would effectively eliminate the use of tools like PhotoDNA.

We worked with the EU on an iteration of this ePrivacy regulation. They’ve now created a carve out. I think that can be done. I think these companies have a higher obligation, a child protection obligation that is not in conflict with their interest to provide user privacy.

But I’m concerned about providing absolute privacy to those who are abusing children online with no risk and virtual anonymity. So I think there’s a balance that can be achieved. And that’s one of the things that we’re trying to foster and promote through the Model National Response and through the WeProtect Global Alliance.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. And one final point on the industry part of the table is that you say that one of the enablers for industry to be effective is the UNCRC. But many of the social media companies, at least in the West, are American and America, as I’m sure you’re fully aware, has not ratified the UNCRC. So is there a problem right there?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

Well, it’s a problem, but there’s also the Optional Protocol [of the UNCRC]. I mean, there are other international instruments to which the US is a party. The reason that the US is the only country on the planet that hasn’t ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child is something unrelated to this and is not likely to change anytime soon, much to the embarrassment of Americans who care about these issues.

But I think there are other tools, there are other mechanisms that can be used. The US Congress for example just created a carve out in that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that does hold these sites responsible, when their sites are being used to promote or carry out human trafficking involving children.

So I think there is movement in that. I think we have plenty of law that enables these companies to engage and act. I think the big challenge is frankly their own self-interest. What we have to do is persuade them that these are issues that their users, that their customers, care about and that they need to do more than just do lip service, or act like they’re training parents to keep their kids safe.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. You mentioned at the outset that you’ve got nearly a hundred governmental members of the WeProtect Global Alliance and the reception to the Model National Response was extremely positive. Are you keeping track of the progress of each member is making in implementing the Model National Response, is there a kind of a scorecard?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

Well, there’s not, one of the commitments that we made… the goal is to engage these countries, to get them to make a commitment to address these. So our promise to the countries is, you know, we’re not going to grade you on your implementation, but we want a genuine commitment.

So one of the things that was most encouraging about the meeting in Addis Ababa was the fact that a dozen countries came up and said, here’s our new plan for addressing this. Take a look at it and let us know what you think. Give us your advice, give us your recommendations. So it’s a balancing act.

You know, we’re trying to bring countries and companies and civil society and international organizations together in a voluntary way, it doesn’t cost them anything, but their price of admission is that they will commit to use this tool to evaluate what they’re doing in their country and to take specific steps. So at some point, and again, I’m encouraged that we have 97 countries signed on and there are another five or six that are currently contemplating signing on. But we need twice that many. So we’re still in the early stages.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. We’ve mentioned Addis Ababa a number of times now in the conversation. You, the WeProtect Global Alliance, had a Global summit in Ethiopia in December of last year. Why Addis Ababa?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

Well, at Addis Ababa because one of our convictions is that this is not just a problem in the global North, but lots of people, particularly policy makers who think, well, yeah, this is a problem in North America and the UK. It’s a problem in Europe. But not in our part of the world. We’ve had government leaders say to us, because of our faith, because of our tradition, because of our law, this isn’t a problem here.

We’re demonstrating it is a problem there. And the African Union, which is the Association of African countries is really concerned about this problem. And one of the real challenges on the African continent is that there are more than two mobile devices for every human being on the African continent. So African kids are being impacted by this problem. They’re carrying the internet around in their hands. And so the African Union said, we want to work with you to address this.

So one of the most exciting things to me was to look out across the room. We had delegations from 93 countries present from all parts of the world, but the presence from Africa was extraordinary and at least a half a dozen African countries signed up either in the lead up to the conference or at the conference itself to be a part of. WeProtect, including countries like the Central African Republic and Burundi and Angola. Senegal signed on, Kenya and Ethiopia, both participated, the President of Ethiopia made the opening address.

So I think we have real momentum in Africa. There is great concern about this problem in Africa, but we also had delegations from Vietnam and Cambodia and Malaysia and Indonesia and Brazil and Honduras and Guatemala and Nicaragua. So this is a global phenomenon. But I think a real priority for us is engaging the global South.

Our previous summit was in the Middle East, was in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. The Middle East has now acknowledged that this is a problem in their region and we have strong participation and action in that region. But I suspect one of the things we’re working on now is to do our next summit, probably in Latin America, because I think the participation level in that us was probably a little less there though. We had half a dozen, seven or eight. Brazil was there who participated in the summit.

But this a global phenomenon is not going to be solved by one country at a time. It’s going to be solved through global cooperation and in a true global effort and raising this issue on the priority list of the world’s leaders.

Neil Fairbrother

At the event in Addis Ababa, one of the outputs of the conference was the Global Strategic Response to online child sexual exploitation and abuse. What is that and how does it differ or work with the Model National Response?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

Well, it is really drawn from the Model National Response, it parallels the Model National Response, but the premise is very basic. The sheer nature of the new technology and the internet is that these problems, these issues, transcend national borders and frontiers. So if we develop the strongest possible unit, a law enforcement unit, to address this problem in Kenya, that’s probably not enough if it involves distributors, or users in other parts of the world.

So what we’ve attempted to do is to create a global framework, with the recognition that legislation and policy can’t be national alone. That in the criminal justice area, there needs to be information sharing and collaboration, targeting through reporting systems. We need to look at victim services and victim impact on a broader than national level. Technology solutions need to be an element of the dialogue including the use of new tools like artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The kind of societal challenges that you mentioned earlier regarding what individual countries do, need to be thought about in a broader way. And then a key element of last element of that is I mentioned earlier, the need for research, we need to better understand this problem. We need to raise it on the policy agendas of world leaders. They need to be talking about this at the G7 and the G20 and at the UN and in other places.

So the goal is to take that Model National Response to building national capacity to better understand the, address this and translate it to at least a regional or a global audience. And let me add, that’s one of the reasons why doing the Addis summit in partnership with the African union was so important because the meeting was larger than Ethiopia. We were able to bring together leaders from across Africa.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. In the technology section of the Global Strategic Response, it says “…voluntary principles for child safety, including safety by design”. is voluntary good enough? Should governments not be mandating certain technological solutions rather than hoping that through the goodness of their hearts, companies will voluntarily adopt some technologies or not use certain other technologies?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

Well, my hope and as you know, many government leaders around the world are now talking about regulation. It’s happening in the UK. It’s happening in the EU. It’s happening in the Congress of the United States.

The nature of WeProtect is a collaboration and so the goal is to try to persuade companies to take aggressive action. But I think the unspoken element of that is if they don’t act, they increase the likelihood that governments are going to regulate them. Governments are going to impose these requirements on them.

So the whole premise of the WeProtect Global Alliance is that is a multi-stakeholder initiative and not just governments are members. There are now 25 technology companies, including many of the major players, Google, Facebook Microsoft, Apple. So the hope is we can engage them, we can persuade them with the logic and with the evidence that we’re building about the sheer extent of this problem, to take meaningful action.

But I think Neil, you’re exactly right. If they don’t take action frankly I think it’s going to be imposed on them. But one of the challenges is, again, talking about global strategic response. These are steps that are difficult to take, a country at a time. How does one country, or even one group of countries, impose meaningful regulations if another part of the world doesn’t do it? So the goal is collaboration and teamwork, but we’re trying to impose constructive pressure so that these companies will act in a meaningful and an aggressive way. And again, I think it’s in their enlightened self-interest to do it, if for no other reason than avoiding draconian action by governments, but that’s certainly on the table.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. So it’s February the seventh and in about two weeks’ time, Mobile World Congress takes place, which is the global gathering of the mobile industry, in Barcelona. Online child safeguarding is not on the agenda of any of the keynotes or seminars as far as I can tell from the agenda. So is the mobile industry taking this issue seriously, do you think?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

No, not yet. They’re a priority for us. We’ve had conversations with some of the major players in the mobile industry and hope they will become participants in the WeProtect Global Alliance, become members of the WeProtect Global Alliance.

The reality is technology has changed. In the New York times series recently, they talked about the fact that 20 years ago it was a problem, 10 years ago it was an epidemic, today it’s a global crisis. Much of that is because of the mobile industry and the use of mobile technology.

The reality is today, kids carry the internet around in their hands, and they have to be a part of this. They have to be a part of this dialogue. Apple participated in the dialogue in Rome. Apple has just taken the step to begin for the first time to implement PhotoDNA. It’s on their platform, and they’re a manufacturer. We hope that the providers will take similar steps. I’ve had conversations with a couple of them, have had conversations with the GMSA and with other trade associations. I think at this point they feel like they’re not the problem, but they’re certainly an element of the problem.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. Now we are as usual fabulously over time. We have a decade to go until 2030 when the UN’s Sustainability Goal 16.2, which is to end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children, is supposed to be complete. Are you optimistic that this can ever be achieved, let alone in 10 years?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

Well, I think the a 16.2 is an important goal and support it enthusiastically. I represent WeProtect on the global fund to end violence against children, the UN initiative that is focusing specifically on 16.2. I think, you know, there is a reality and I have a scepticism that eradicating violence against children or erradicating online violence against children is truly achievable. But I think it’s important that we all work toward that end and having these kinds of goals creates an urgency and a momentum to try to achieve them.

So I, you know, I think it’s going to be very difficult. I think steps, important steps, are being taken and you know, we see that as a key element of our agenda at WeProtect. If we are not working to eliminate the problem, then what are we doing?

So I think the challenge is, you know, our approach, our priority right now is to engage these tech companies and ensure that they’re doing what they can do. We understand the focus and the emphasis on protecting user privacy. And I personally, and WeProtect, believe strongly in maximizing privacy, protection for people on the internet, but it can’t be absolute. Absolute privacy ensures that the epidemic, that the crisis in the words of the New York Times, of child sexual abuse and exploitation on the internet gets worse.

So I think there is a reasonable balance that we can achieve and I’m convinced that much of the answer to this problem resides in technology-based solutions. Technology created the problem. It’s gotten dramatically worse because of technology and I think technology innovation can help solve it. But at the same time, we recognize that technology will continue to evolve. When the US government, the US Defence Department developed the tool that allowed the creation of the Dark Web, they did it for high-minded and noble reasons…

Neil Fairbrother

This is Tor browser?

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

Absolutely. They were basically protecting journalists and political dissidents during the time of the Middle Eastern uprising, from retaliation by repressive regimes. But apparently nobody contemplated that it might be used by somebody else.

The National Crime Agency in the UK estimates that the 10 largest Dark Web paedophilia sites, just 10 sites, 10 groups, had nearly 3 million members all using internet anonymity. All using these tools designed to protect legitimate privacy and protect people in need of these protections being used in unanticipated ways.

My argument is we need to begin to anticipate those ways and to develop the technologies necessary to maximize the protection of children. I think we can do that. Can we eradicate the problem by 2030? I’m sceptical, but I think that needs to be our goal.

Neil Fairbrother

Ernie. we’re going to have to end it on that note, I’m afraid. Thank you so much for your time. It’s been a real pleasure and a privilege to talk with you. Thank you very much indeed.

Ernie Allen, WeProtect Global Alliance

Thank you, Neil. It’s good. Good to be with you.

 

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