'Five Eyes' allies urge digital industry to stop child pornographers, terrorists

Canada and its "Five Eyes" intelligence allies are calling on the digital online industry to take urgent action to stop child pornographers, terrorists and violent extremists from finding a platform on the internet.

Canada and security allies say illicit material is flourishing and easily accessible on the web

Canada, Australia, New Zealand, U.K. and the U.S. are calling on the digital industry to take steps to crack down on child pornographers and terrorists exploiting the internet. (Shutterstock)

Canada and its "Five Eyes" intelligence allies are calling on the digital online industry to take urgent action to stop child pornographers, terrorists and violent extremists from finding a platform on the internet.

After meetings in Australia, ministers from that country, Canada, New Zealand, the U.S. and U.K., issued a statement claiming the group is as determined to counter the "grave threats" online as they are to dealing with them in the physical world.

"Our citizens expect online spaces to be safe, and are gravely concerned about illegal and illicit online content, particularly the online sexual exploitation of children. We stand united in affirming that the rule of law can and must prevail online," reads the joint communique issued Wednesday.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould attended the meetings.

The Five Eyes group noted "with disappointment" that senior digital industry leaders did not accept an invitation to attend to engage on what it called "critical issues." The statement did not name specific companies, but the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism is led by Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google and includes dozens of other tech companies.

'New vectors for harm'

The joint statement says the anonymous, instantaneous and networked nature of the web has magnified threats and "opened up new vectors for harm." It also notes that the evolution of digital technology has created new opportunities for transmitting child exploitation material and perpetrating the most abhorrent acts, such as live streaming abuse.

The statement says illicit material is not relegated to the recesses of the dark web, but is accessible through most common top‑level domains. Mobile technology has enabled offenders to target children using apps to recruit and coerce children.

"The low financial cost, and the anonymized nature of this criminal enterprise, is contributing to a growth in the sexual exploitation of children. We must escalate government and industry efforts to stop this," it reads.

Lianna McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection welcomed the joint statement.

"Our organization has been engaging directly with survivors of child sexual abuse who endure lifelong impacts from the recording and sharing of their abuse on the internet," she said in an emailed statement "Collaboration across borders and with all sectors, including industry, is essential if we are to make meaningful progress in this space and address this heinous crime."

Tackling terrorist fundraising

The communique also pledges to do more to prevent terrorists and violent extremists from spreading materials designed to radicalize, recruit, fundraise and mobilize.

Actions urged by the Five Eyes group include:

  • Developing and implementing capabilities to prevent illegal and illicit content from being uploaded, and to execute urgent and immediate takedown measures when there is an upload.
  • Deploying human and automated capabilities to find and remove legacy content.
  • Investing more on automated capabilities and techniques, including photo DNA tools, to detect, remove and prevent reupload of illegal and illicit content. 
  • Building user safety into the design of all online platforms and services.

Allen Mendelsohn, an internet law specialist and lecturer at McGill's law faculty, said because child porn is universally deemed reprehensible, he expects mounting governmental and public pressure could prompt tech companies to act.

But, he said in past, they have resisted any steps to remove content, citing the "slippery slope" argument.

"They are loathe to take any sort of action that would be seen as removing or not displaying any particular content that has been uploaded by users," he said. "They have taken the longstanding position that user content is the user's responsibility, not the platform's responsibility."

 Mendelsohn said the issue is complicated because there are differing laws and views internationally on what constitutes crossing the line for the internet.