Internet service providers should voluntarily provide police with the information they need to crack down on child sexual abuse online, say police attending an Internet Safety Symposium in Dartmouth.

Police should be able to get quicker access to customer information in order to track down abusers, said Halifax Regional Police Cpl. David Fox, head of the force's Integrated Internet Unit,Tuesday.

That means internet service providers should hand over the information voluntarily without the need of a police search warrant or new laws forcing them to divulge information about child abuse.

"I mean, just think about it. We're talking about mandatory legislation. Not long ago, we did it because it was the right thing to do. You didn't have to be told by the law that if you observe a crime, you have to report it to police," Fox told the symposium.

"If you walked down the street, and you saw a child being raped, would you have to be mandated by law to report it to police?"

Some providers say they're willing to help

Kelly Gallant, a spokeswoman with the provider Bell Aliant, said her company wants to help fight child abuse online, but it's too soon to say how it will do it.

"That's why we're here — to learn, to listen to what's going on in other places, take that back and really see how that applies to our business," she said. "The goal being a safe experience for all our customers, especially children and youth because we recognize this is very serious."

There is legislation in the United States that makes it mandatory to report child abuse online, police said. But, they pointed out, that may not be necessary in Canada if internet providers ask customers to sign agreements that any criminal activity will be reported.

There are countless web sites selling images of children being raped, police at the symposium said, and the trend is toward children under the age of nine. It's an industry worth at least $2 billion a year, police said. 

Fox said his unit can't keep up with all the cases.

"We are getting files on a daily, weekly basis. Every one of the units across the country is backlogged," he said.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Rick Greenwood, who works with a national centre that fights child exploitation, said there are disturbing trends in the images posted online.

"We're seeing images that are more violent, and they aren't just images — video clips can go on for an hour, an hour and a half," he said.

RCMP officers attending this conference said they now use the term "child abuse" to describe images online, rather than "child pornography," because they say that term diminishes the seriousness of the crime.