Safeguarding Podcast – 2020 Vision: a review of 2020’s Safeguarding Podcasts

Welcome to another edition of the SafeToNet Foundation’s Safeguarding Podcast with Neil Fairbrother exploring the law, culture and technology of safeguarding children online.

In this Safeguarding Podcast, we review 2020’s Safeguarding Podcasts with contributions from many of our wonderful guests:

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

Neil Fairbrother

2020 has been a year like no other in recent times with the UK being hit by both COVID and Brexit. Here’s Sheila Taylor MBE of the NWG Network discussing how COVID has impacted the delivery of children’s services.

The COVID Impact, full podcast here, full blog post here.

Sheila Taylor MBE, NWG Network

So we do have to be really careful about violence within the home because it teaches our children violence within the home is acceptable. And the rise in domestic violence during pandemic makes it very difficult for children and young people to disclose to anybody else that they’re suffering the witness of it, or the abuse of it within the home, because they’ve not had those safe places to disclose in.

Neil Fairbrother

Yes, that’s one of the other points she raised was that young people and children are finding support more difficult to find as everything has moved on line. How can that be addressed?

Sheila Taylor MBE

It’s been really difficult I think for practitioners, key workers, who’ve got young people that they’ve been supporting, and we have to be really careful about this online situation because we are teaching our children to be more careful online and not to talk to strangers and then on the other hand, we’re encouraging them to engage with us online during COVID.

There’s multiple of difficulties I think about the digital platform that we’ve got. So one of those is that not all young people have got access to a digital world and that digital poverty and what that means, what that means for them. So those young people that are able to engage online, so through WhatsApp or Messenger or whatever it is, whatever platform is set up for them to engage with their key worker they’re able to find a space to talk to their key workers and that’s really good and that gives them a safe space to perhaps talk about.

But if you’re in a, if you’re in a violent household, you may not have that space. You may be in the living room at a family computer. You may not have that privacy to be able to tell somebody that this is happening within your four walls and you can’t get out to tell anybody else. Of course, that’s impounded if that young person’s got no access to a digital platform or a key worker through the COVID position. So we’ve got multiple issues there.

Neil Fairbrother

One of the impacts of the COVID lockdown, in fact COVID in general lockdown in particular, is that everyone is now working from home which includes child safety practitioners, welfare offices, and so on. What impact has that had on their productivity and their methods of working?

Sheila Taylor MBE

This is an area that really does concern me. I think productivity has gone up massively. Over the period of lockdown, we’ve been holding shared learning events, which have had a hundred plus people on each one and they’ve been a wide range of subject matters. And I think one of the things that we’ve had fed back all the time is that they’ve got more time for young people because they could fit more young people into a day because you can’t stay on Zoom or Teams or whatever that platform is for as long as you do when you’re going for a physical visit. And going for a physical visit involves you traveling to the meeting, holding the meeting, taking the young person out, maybe traveling back to the office. Whereas the virtual world allows you to go from one young person to another, and you could probably fit many more in a day than you could if you were in a car and going round, that’s fantastic. And some of the digital engagement has been very, very creative and we’ve been really, really impressed with it.

The other side of that coin is that the key workers have reported back, so coordinators and people who hold those multi-agency strategy meetings, have reported back saying that they’ve had greater attendance because people are working from home so at each meeting they’ve had all the agencies represented and they’ve had a shorter, more focused meetings that’s been more action orientated. And that they’ve got more strategic meetings into the day because they’re shorter, they’re punchier. And that is really good.

However, the thing for me is that when you’re in an office and you have a really difficult case, it may be on the telephone. It may be that you’ve met them personally. It may be that they’ve come into the office it could be any range of things. You put the phone down, you come out of the meeting or whatever, and you go “Phew, do you know?” And you talk to your colleagues, you have a conversation, they might make you a cup of tea. They might say, “Oh, let’s have a biscuit. That’s a bad one.”

You know, I know that I went round my office on a regular basis on difficult days and put a little pot of chocolate buttons on everybody’s desk. And it’s just about creating that time and that safe space for key workers to come together. And what I find now is that when I pick up a call I have brought that abuse into my home, not into an office arrangement. I brought it into my home. I’ve discussed it in my home. I have the luxury of an office where I can shut the door, but some people have got this in their living rooms, in their kitchens. They’ve got young children running around.

They don’t have that space to be able to process some of that. And they do not have their colleagues easily accessible to go “Phew. That was about one Oh, what do you think of this? Do you think I’ve said the right thing, do you think I’ve done the right thing? Do you think I’ve missed anything?” And you’re sat ay home on your own with it. And I I’m really worried about that impact on key workers because their very last thing we need is children and young people to form a trusted relationship with their key worker and we experience a whole host of burnout in industries, in agencies, where there is already a lack of resource and lots and lots of over demand.

Don’t go into the Dark Woods, Baroness Sal Brinton: full podcast here, full blog post here.

Neil Fairbrother

Although this interview was recorded in 2019, it’s worth looking back at Baroness Sal Brenton’s concerns about Brexit as what she feared back then when President of the Liberal Democrats has in fact happened with the Brexit deal. And it’s not at all clear how this benefits British children.

Baroness Sal Brinton, Liberal Democrats

The big thing that my colleagues talk about is the European Arrest Warrant, where at the moment being part of the EU, it becomes very easy if you have somebody who is, whether they’ve committed a crime in the UK, or if they’ve done some cyberbullying on a cyber-crime on young people in this country, but if they live abroad, we have the power to be able to get them straight back through the European Arrest Warrant, without having to go through very slow and long extradition processes that we have to use with other countries. And I think we’re very concerned that whatever the relationship is, if Brexit happens, we need to replicate that somewhere. The problem is that once you’re out of the club of the EU, we’re knocking at the door asking for some special treatments. So we need to make sure that that remains a priority.

Carly’s Law with Sonya Ryan: full podcast here, full blog post here.

Neil Fairbrother

But we started the year talking to the inspirational Sonia Ryan, how she turned her family’s desperate tragedy into a force for good by relentlessly campaigning for Carly’s law, first of all in Australia and now globally.

So one of the major pieces of legislative reform that you’ve been able to instigate is commonly known as Carly’s law. What is Carly’s law?

Sonya Ryan, Carly Ryan Foundation

So there are two versions of Carly’s law, the first being the Commonwealth or Federal version of Carly’s law, which says any preparation to harm a child, which includes the misrepresentation of age online, would mean up to 10 years imprisonment. So it’s almost like antiterrorism legislation, and this is terrorism against our children, obviously. So now that version of Carly’s law passed in 2017 in Australia and is being used a lot by the Australian Federal police.

I just had meetings with the Minister’s office and the Federal police have said that they don’t want to see any amendments, that it’s working really almost like a gateway to enable them to get in and get a child out of harm before they’re actually offended against. And that is the whole purpose of this legislation. Rather than reactive legislation, I wanted to look at preventative legislation. So that was the kind of motivation behind drafting this legislation.

Whereas the State legislation of Carly’s law takes a kind of a step back, it’s tighter. So if you lie about your identity and age to a minor online under the age of 16, and then attempt to meet that minor, that in itself is the offense. So the meeting aspect and that gives police the power to arrest an individual. And generally when they do, they find exploitation material on computers and other evidence, then they can apply additional charges.

And that passed in my State of South Australia in 2018 and we are meeting with Attorney Generals in other States to try and get it into the criminal codes of the other States. But interestingly, the UN contacted me and said that they would like to assist me in getting this legislation into the criminal codes of other countries, and it’s the first of its kind in the world. And that really, I guess, took my breath away.

Just being on this journey and having this kind of tunnel vision of focus to create some kind of positive change, to try to create tools for police to be able to act sooner, I didn’t actually realize that it would have such an impact. And so now I’m traveling all over the world, speaking with various police in America, and I’ve been to the UK and New Zealand and there’s interest in Carly’s law in other countries. So I’m about to go back to the US next week and getting into discussion with police in Texas and see if we can get Carly’s law into the criminal codes over there.

So you know, I mean, who knows where this will go, but I’m just so grateful that I am in a position that I’m able to advocate for you know, children and to essentially potentially protect them from being harmed in the first place, because once they’re offended against then, you know, what is their future, you know? It’s a lot of suffering if the child survives that criminal act.

It’s all about Privacy. DoH! Full podcast here, full blog post here.

Neil Fairbrother

We discussed the impact on online child safety of some privacy technology called DNS over HTTPS with Fred Langford, who at the time was Chief Technology Officer of the Internet Watch Foundation.

Fred Langford

Yes, absolutely. So if you to sort of merge the two technologies together, you can see that the DNS request is sent in clear text and that’s a risk for sort of cyber-security attacks on individuals and organizations. So the solution to that is, like you say RFC 8484, is to encrypt that traffic. So the request goes straight to a server and it’s encrypted as it would be on HTTPS traffic. So it’s invisible to somebody who’s trying to intercept your traffic on the network.

The downside of DoH from a safeguarding perspective is that it removes the visibility from ISPs who are not running their own DoH servers, from being able to see what is taking place on their network. It could potentially cause problems for the IWF because we provide a URL list of live sites hosting child sexual abuse material, hosted outside the UK, ones that we’ve sent a notice to, but as yet the content has not been removed. And currently what happens is as that request goes to an Internet Service Provider, if it’s on one of these suspect sites, it would redirect that traffic at that point. It would say, hang on a minute, this site has got something illegal on it. Let’s redirect that traffic to a second machine, which would have looked at the exact page and filter.

So it’s a combination. It needs that DNS to look up, to be able to redirect the traffic, but at the second stage of filtering, what it does is it looks at the absolute detailed URL so we don’t have any collateral damage. Rather than blocking the whole site, if the site has been abused by one person, it may be that there’s one illegal image on the site that’s got hundreds of thousands of images on there and they’re perfectly legal. We wouldn’t want to issue a notice for the whole site to be removed. We just want that page to be blocked and have the content removed from there. So yes, it causes problems for the deployment of IWF datasets by ISPs.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. So this then in turn might cause a problem for children who have been abused?

Fred Langford

Yes. Because what it means is that it leaves the potential for many more people to accidentally stumble on content that they would usually be blocked for. So if somebody has been a victim of abuse, we are aware from talking to survivors of abuse that the revictimization of knowing that people are still able to see their abuse out on the internet is obviously very troubling. And so the more checks and interventions we can put in is going to help the revictimization of those victims.

So if the filtering solutions can be bypassed, obviously it leaves a great deal of anxiety and angst for that victim to think that more people are going to potentially stumble across that material. And what is the outcome of that? Does it mean that more people are going to start seeking their abuse in the future?

So it means that if somebody got a predisposition to have an interest in this sort of content, they may never realize that if they never stumble across the content. If they hit content accidentally, it may awaken something that they previously wouldn’t have been able to realize. And so there are a number of risks associated with not being able to filter known content from being viewed.

Strangers in the Mind of the Child: Full podcast here, full blog post here.

Neil Fairbrother

Ernie Allen Chair of the We Protect Global Alliance, highlighted the impact of the World Wide Web on the distribution of child sexual abuse material.

Neil Fairbrother

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 worldwide web now. So Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the worldwide 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 We Protect Global Alliance. In 1989 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 call 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 its distribution through the mails. 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 We Protect and in other ways is these companies need to begin to assume some responsibility.

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 the world in our view doesn’t yet fully recognize that.

Missing the Target: Full podcast here, full blog post here.

Neil Fairbrother

Anna Borgstrom CEO of NetClean, discussed the prevalence of child sexual abuse material in the corporate IT environment, its scale and impact

Anna Borgstrom, CEO NetClean

The prevalence of that was that one in 10 companies said that they had found material.

Neil Fairbrother

10% of companies have found this material within their IT estate?

Anna Borgstrom

Yeah. And we thought that number was quite low actually because our statistics, if you use our end point solution which I was talking about earlier, we know that we have approximately 1 in 500 computers in a corporate environment that is used to consume child sexual abuse material.

Neil Fairbrother

You spoke at the UN launch of the Broadband Commission report recently and you outlined there the scale of what you’ve been finding, which isn’t just the number of predators. You gave a number there of 1 in 500 machines within the corporate IT infrastructure being used for this stuff. But you had a different scale here. You put up a slide that contained some absolutely staggering numbers. You said that in a normal case a predator might have one to three terabytes of content, which would be about 1 billion to 10 million images. But at the worst case scenario an almost unbelievable 100 terabytes of content, which is you say a hundred million images and 100,000 hours of video content, which you conveniently broke down into that’s 33 years’ worth of nine till five, eight hours a day watching. That is an astonishing volume. So how do investigators even begin to analyse 33 years’ worth of video?

Anna Borgstrom

Well, that’s the thing, I mean, can you imagine having their job? They are their true heroes. And we have to make sure that they have the right technology and the right resources around them in order to be able to do their work.

Project Arachnid: Full podcast here, full blog post here.

Neil Fairbrother

We were privileged to be joined by Lianna McDonald, Senior Executive of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, who dropped into our office when you could do such things, where we discussed Project Arachnid and the “continuum of abuse”.

Neil Fairbrother

You refer to something in your framework for the protection and the rights of children, which is called the “continuum of abuse”. What is the continuum of abuse?

Lianna McDonald, Canadian Centre Child Protection

Sure. It’s important that we have access to Interpol’s database and the RCMP and the policing databases that will help us know where we see an identified victim. Or a not identified, but a known series. So the child has not been rescued, but it’s a known series that has been repeatedly investigated by policing.

Neil Fairbrother

A series of photos?

Lianna McDonald

Yeah. What will happen is a video let’s say will be spliced and we will have still images on the continuum. So you might see a little four year old girl who is in a dress but she’s completely visible. Within that series of still images, you will then see her sexually assaulted. Our framework is saying from coming at this from a child rights perspective, we want all of those images associated with that abusive incident to come down.

Neil Fairbrother

Right. At the moment, the only illegal images would be those of the sexual exploitation. In this example, the four year old in a dress, that’s not an illegal image, so therefore there is no reason in legal terms for a service provider to take that image down. But for the victim, of course, it’s part of that continuum of as you describe it and what you’re saying is that the whole continuum needs to be treated and taken down, not just the currently illegal ones.

Lianna McDonald

The truth of the matter is, is that we’re way behind and we’re failing children. We didn’t have the context that we have now and Arachnid has really given us that context. And so when we look at the fact that right now we are using a criminal law threshold for removal, when we don’t need it to be doing so. So what we are doing in the framework is basically saying that we are looking at this from a child rights perspective. And when we are issuing notices to providers, because we feel that something, even though it may not be technically criminally illegal, it’s causing harm and damage to the victim. We want that image down.

Agents of the State: Full podcast here, full blog post here.

Neil Fairbrother

Rick Lane, formerly of MySpace explained Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and why social media platforms are fighting any change to the status quo, which provides them with immunity from liability for what’s on their platforms.

Neil Fairbrother

Talking about laws and legislations, back then the raging legal argument seems to be whether online service providers were regarded as publishers or booksellers. What is the difference between the two? Why were those comparisons being made?

Rick Lane, formerly of MySpace

Sure that was back in ‘96, even before MySpace, I was part of the Communications Decency Act of which direction should the law go. And there were two court cases at the time, Compuserve and Prodigy. And it was one, because they were moderating their site, but they were more of a publisher because they were moderating they had knowledge. And if you have knowledge of illegal activity, you can be held liable. So then there was another case that said, no, these bulletin board services are really more like newspaper stands. And so if I’m selling a newspaper, The Times of London, and there’s something libellous inside the Times of London, you can’t sue the newspaper stand owner. You could sue the newspaper, but not the newspaper stand.

So the question was, which of these type of common law experiences should be going forward. And that’s when the legislation Section 230 was introduced the ‘96 Telecom Act by Ron Wine and Chris Cox to say we’re going to create what the liability standards should be in this new online environment.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. So what then is Section 230? What is its purpose?

Rick Lane

The purpose of Section 230 was to clarify these two conflicting standards. The platform liability is used really to several things. One, it exempts platforms from any type of state criminal and civil law that is inconsistent with the acts and which has been interpreted very broadly. And then it also provided them with immunities if they took down content, which is actually the Safe Harbor provision. So if they go on their site and look and find something that is illegal and take it down or something that they find harmful to children and take it down, they cannot be sued. So those were really the big provisions of the bill.

The Marquis de Sade, the Libertines and the Internet. Full podcast here, full blog post here.

Neil Fairbrother

The toughest podcast to research and record was with Professor Michael Salter, who discussed the sadistic nature of organized sexual abuse of children, based on his published work on the topic.

Professor Michael Salter

Perpetrators can get to know one another. They can seek out people who are like them, and they can start to collude in the abuse of children. And what we see with group sexual offenses, so group sexual offending against both children and adults is that it tends to be more severe. The presence of multiple perpetrators often brings to light sort of sadistic impulses in offenders.

So it’s quite common when we’re looking at groups or networks of offenders that we’re looking at more serious type of offending and also I suppose more perverse sorts of offending including things like things like sadistic abuse, what used to be called “bizarre abuse”. Sometimes when children disclosed organized sexual victimization that would describe quite perverse sorts of sexual behaviour, we really didn’t have a good context for understanding.

And, you know, unfortunately it’s been the internet that has provided us with undeniable photographic evidence of just how perverse child sexual offending can be. And it’s allowed us, I suppose, to attribute more credibility to disclosures that 20 or 30 years ago were quite difficult for law enforcement and mental health practitioners to take seriously.

Neil Fairbrother

You refer to a character in your book known as the Marquis de Sade. Who was the Marquis de Sade and where does he come into all of this?

Professor Michael Salter

So the Marquis de Sade is a very famous literary figure for, you know, a very perverse set of writings that he published in the 18th century in which he describes groups of people who come together to transgress the boundaries of sexual morality. And there’s been a point that’s been made in therapeutic circles around organized abuse for a long time, that the kinds of abuses that the Marquis de Sade describes in his texts are in fact, and dynamics of abuse are in fact, very similar to the sorts of disclosures that we hear from organized abuse survivors.

The point that I make in my book is that he identifies particular types of logic of sexual transgression. And I think these logics help us to understand contemporary organized abuse, where survivors are describing not just sexual violation, but intentional degradation.

The Supply and Demand of Encrypted Live Streamed Child Sex Abuse: Full podcast here, full blog post here.

John Tanagho of the International Justice Mission discussed the supply and demand of privacy-enabled and encrypted pay per view and direct live streaming of child sexual abuse.

John Tanagho, International Justice Mission (IJM)

OSEC is a form of human trafficking or modern slavery. And basically what you have is sex offenders around the world are willing to pay a trafficker in another country to sexually abuse and exploit children anew in live streaming or to create new CSEM, child sexual exploitation materials.

And so this is a commercial form of sexual exploitation of children, where the criminal who is with the child, sometimes it’s family members or neighbours, they are financially motivated. And so they are willing to livestream the abuse of children over and over again to paying child sex offenders in demand side countries like the US, the UK, Australia, and so on.

And so we’ve seen in our cases that these sex offenders will pay anywhere between, you know, $10 or $20 up to a $100 or $200 per livestream of children being sexually abused, sometimes very, very young children. And sometimes they’ll abuse children online for years before they’re caught and they’ll spend thousands and thousands of dollars over several years paying for this abuse. So it’s really a form of human trafficking.

And IJM believes that both the offender, you know, the demand side offender, sitting in their home in the UK who is directing the abuse, paying for it, commissioning it and the offender sitting in the Philippines who’s, you know, actually physically sexually abusing the child and streaming it, they’re both engaging in human trafficking. It’s just different aspects of the crime.

Lock Them up and Throw Away the Key: Full podcast here, full blog post here.

Neil Fairbrother

Jenny Greensmith-Brennan of Safer Lives wondered whether there is another way, even a better way other than prison, of dealing with offenders.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. Now what is wrong with the lock them up and throw away the key approach to offenders, which is a common response from the general public, particularly in the comments section on various news sites and so on? Why not simply lock these offenders up and leave them there?

Jenny Greensmith-Brennan, SaferLives

I guess, because as humans ideally we are wanting to understand why people do certain things and to help them contribute back to society. You know, if you lock someone up, you’re taking someone’s father away from them, you’re effectively saying to them there is no good in you and we just want to punish.

I think our take is punish the behaviour, absolutely. And also harness the potential that that person has to do good. I think as well is the assumption that locking someone up and throwing away the key is the biggest consequence to people, but it’s not. The biggest consequence is loss of family support, it’s loss of community, loss of identity, loss of being respected. They’re the bigger losses.

Innovation is Illegal: Full podcast here, full blog post here.

John Carr took us through the EU’s bizarre new EU ePrivacy Directive and how it will make innovation in CSAM  detection, illegal.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. Now this is the temporary derogation I believe?

John Carr OBE

It is call the temporary derogation. In fact, the Commission have said they’ll bring forward the measure next year, but the point is belt and braces. If this measure is passed the status quo will be preserved until at least 2025.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay but it does more than that though, doesn’t it? Because it says “…the derogation provided for by the regulation will be limited to well-established technology that is regularly used by a number of independent interpersonal communication services for the purposes of detecting and reporting CSA online and removing CSA material before the entry into force of this regulation”. And it also says “…the use of this technology in question should therefore be common within the industry”.

Now to my mind, that is blocking innovation. So you mentioned photo DNA, which is fantastic. And I spoke with Hany Farid about it, who is credited with the invention of that particular technology. And it’s very good at what it does, but it by definition almost relies on the abuse having been committed. It is a retrospective analysis and tagging of published photographs and videos with PhotoDNA for Video. But there are new technologies emerging, which can analyse in real time what the camera is seeing and can hash or block out in real time. Now this legislation would presumably prevent these new emerging technologies from being deployed?

John Carr OBE

You are absolutely right. It’s the first time that I can recall in effect, a law being passed, which says innovation is illegal, and innovation to protect children as being made illegal. Because you’re absolutely right. It has to be well-established commonly accepted within the industry and so on. But the idea that you would make it illegal to innovate and come up with new solutions or solutions which have not yet gained common acceptance within the industry or a well-established does seem a little bit bizarre.

Freedom of Thought, the Forgotten Right: full podcast here, full blog post here.

Neil Fairbrother

Susie Alegre, International human rights lawyer and Barrister at Doughty Street Chambers discussed the most intriguing forgotten right, The Freedom of Thought and introduced us to sanctity of the Forum Internum.

Neil Fairbrother

Let’s get down to some basics. I mentioned the European Enlightenment, and I think the roots of the Freedom of Thought are deeply buried there, but it was enshrined much more recently in 1948 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What is the Freedom of Thought? And is it in fact the case that it has its origins way back in the 17th and 18th centuries?

Susie Alegre, Doughty Street Chambers

Yes. I mean the concept of a right to Freedom of Thought absolutely as you say, stems from ideas that were being developed around the Enlightenment, particularly in Europe, but also with philosophers further afield, for example, in Ethiopia. And it’s this idea that inside our heads, we should be able to think and develop our ideas about the world and our opinions unmolested by outside forces, if you like. And that at that time was quite a new idea. If you think historically about, for example, the power of the church, of the Spanish inquisition and famously, you know, the idea that you should be allowed to think and believe what you like was not really something that was recognized before that kind of Enlightenment period. In fact, it was much more the case that people were expected to toe the line and believe what they were being told they should believe.

And as you say, really in 1948, that idea about the right to Freedom of Thought, which had also been expressed earlier as well, in things like the Declaration of the Rights of Man coming out of the French Revolution and with some of the Founding Fathers of the United States also recognizing the importance of the right to Freedom of Thought. But when it became established in international law was absolutely in 1948, with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and then the regional human rights treaties, like the European Convention on Human Rights and UN treaties like the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights that really put these concepts on a legal footing.

And so what you find in the UDHR and reflected in those other instruments is a right to Freedom of Thought along with the right to Freedom of Religion, Conscience, and Belief, and also a right to Freedom of Opinion, connected to the right to Freedom of Expression.

Neil Fairbrother

We’ve got the Freedom of Thought and we’ve got the Freedom of Opinion and also Freedom of Expression and those three are related, but they’re not all the same. What’s are the differences?

Susie Alegre

But what you see, looking at the right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Belief is two aspects of the right. One is a right inside your head. So really it’s to think, believe or form opinions as you like inside your head. The other is the right to manifest your religion and belief. And those two rights are dealt with very differently.

So while human rights law allows limitations on your manifestation of your religion or belief or your thoughts through expressions, so when you start telling people what you think or writing about what you think, then human rights law does allow limits on what you can say in order, for example, to protect the rights and freedoms of others.

But while you also see your beliefs, your opinions stay inside your own head, human rights law protects that freedom, absolutely. Which means that there can never be a justification for States or other people to interfere with your right to freedom inside your own heads, your right to freedom in what’s known as the Forum Internum.

Neil Fairbrother

In my introduction I mentioned that you had previously said that this Freedom of Thought is a forgotten right. What did you mean by that?

Susie Alegre

Well, it’s been very interesting since I started working on the right about four years ago that while the right to Freedom of Religion, particularly manifestation of religion has been a focus of many court cases and many policy and legal developments, and similarly, the right to Freedom of Expression is something that many people are very familiar with and in recent years we see it increasingly becoming a sort of polemical debate around Freedom of Expression and different approaches to what the right might mean.

The right to Freedom of Thought and this idea of what’s going on inside your head has received very little attention from legal scholars or in cases. And in the digital world in particular, what we’ve seen is a really big development around the right protection of personal data and the right to private life, both of which are extremely important rights in the digital space but both of which can be limited in law, as long as those limitations are established by law, are justified and proportionate and non-discriminatory.

But as I said earlier, this right to Freedom of Thought inside your head is an absolute right, which means that it can never be tampered with. It’s an absolute right in the same way that the prohibition on slavery and the prohibition on torture are absolute rights that they can never, ever be justified.

And so, while I think privacy is, if you like a gateway right; privacy protects the perimeter of what’s around your head. As we’ve seen developments in technology in the past two decades escalating to try to analyse what is going on almost in real time inside our heads and to affect what’s going on inside our heads in real time, this question of the right to freedom in the Forum Internum is becoming ever more urgent. And so it’s only recently, and really since I writing about it in 2017, that a focus has shifted to look at what this means in practical terms, particularly in the digital sphere.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. One last question if I may, Susie, because we are running short of time, unfortunately. Are we on the cusp of a dystopian 1984 style future, or is the future for children’s digital lives, a bright one?

Susie Alegre

Well if I’ve got anything to do with it, I still believe it can be a bright one! And that’s why I’ve been working on this issue for so long. I don’t believe in giving up in the face of a dystopian future, I believe still in the human rights that were enshrined in the UDHR and their potential for protecting our rights and our children’s rights now and in the future.

Parenting for a Digital Future: full podcast here, full blog post here.

Neil Fairbrother

And finally we discussed Sonia Livingstone’s book Parenting for a Digital Future.

Neil Fairbrother

One final question for you Sonia, before we wrap up, as we really have run out of time. Is the digital future a bright future?

Sonia Livingstone OBE

Five answers came to mind simultaneously. I think children’s future is bright because I love talking to children and actually in this book, I love talking to parents too, but I am quite worried that a lot of the design and innovation in the digital world still doesn’t meet their interests and listen to their voice.


Sadly, we didn’t have time in this review of the 2020 Safeguarding Podcasts to recap all of the amazing contributions from fantastic podcast guests. I would like to thank all of them for being so generous with their time, knowledge, and expertise, and wish them as well as you, our listeners, a happy, prosperous and safe 2021.

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