How the BBC committed multiple crimes regarding online child exploitation
Today I read an article in which the BBC asserts that Facebook encouraged it to break the law by requesting a journalist to send images from groups where users were discussing swapping what appeared to be child abuse material.
I picked up on this thanks to Rachel O’Connell — an expert in the field of online child safety. Rachel dedicated her entire post to discussing how Facebook was in the wrong. I agree with everything she says. If you want to read why Facebook isn’t doing enough in the area of online child protection, read her post here.
The purpose of my post is to talk about the BBC and how it was wrong. The BBC broke two laws — not just one that is being discussed by the BBC or Rachel.
First, some background context regarding my experience in this area. I’m Founding CEO of MetaCert — a cybersecurity company with an MOU with The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). I have hosted conference calls between the DOJ and NCMEC to discuss this very topic. I have also hosted conferences call with the Internet Trust Watch Foundation (IFW) in the UK and I have presented at CEOP. Also, I have discussed this very topic with Government officials in the UAE.
I co-instigated the creation of the W3C Standard for Content Labeling specifically to help protect kids from pornography. That Standard replaced PICS — which was first introduced by ICRA (now known as FOSI — who by the way, offered me a seat on the Board many years ago). MetaCert has classified the world’s biggest database of pornography, by a lot. And as such, my staff have stumbled upon online child abuse content in the past. So, we also have dealings with the reporting of such content. Lastly, Ashton Kutcher has been in the media saying he had to endure looking at online child abuse (I don’t know why, because he is also prohibited from looking at this content) — his foundation wearethorn.org is known to me because I gave them a massive list of expert keywords that are used by online sex offenders. I believe they share such lists with companies such as Google.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way and established that I have first hand experience in this field (as I don’t talk about it online), I can say with a great deal of certainty that the BBC did in fact break the law when it sent illegal content to Facebook. It doesn’t matter if Facebook was wrong to request it. The BBC was wrong and given their track record in handling case of child abuse, they should know better. It would appear that the BBC needs to train it’s staff so this doesn’t happen again in the future.
But it doesn’t end there. How did the BBC come upon such content? It’s pretty much impossible to stumble upon this content unless you’re wading in pornography websites and you’re extremely unlucky. If the BBC was actively looking for online child abuse images or videos, which I’m guessing was the case, it was actually breaking another law. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for the right reasons — it’s against the law. I hosted all of those conference calls for two reasons. Firstly I wanted to increase the age of online child abuse as it’s currently way too low. And secondly, I wanted to ask for permission to use our technology to search, find and monitor websites that are known to host such content. I knew it was against the law to look, so I asked for the law to be changed. As it happens the law hasn’t changed, so our technology can’t be used by us.
To summarize: It’s against the law to look for online child abuse content. And it’s against the law to share it — for any reason. Do not report it to Facebook. Report it to the authorities through the appropriate channels as mentioned above.
As a footnote, Facebook also does an appalling job at removing hardcore pornography that’s very easy to find. I have no idea why they are so amazing at targeting ads based on the direction you like your toilet paper at home. Yet it’s unable to tackle Fake News or pornography.
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