Child sex abuse: Pirated-content users ‘reluctant’ to report images

Fears of prosecution for copyright infringement means few cases are reported, watchdog says

There is concern that  a large amount of child sex abuse material is being shared below the surface on “peer to peer” networks

There is concern that a large amount of child sex abuse material is being shared below the surface on “peer to peer” networks

 

Internet users who accidently encounter child sex abuse material while illegally downloading pirated movies and music are reluctant to report it due to worries about being prosecuted, an internet watchdog has warned.

Hotline.ie is a joint initiative between internet service providers (ISPs), the Government and the Garda to track down and remove child sex abuse material (CSAM) online.

Internet users can report such material and Hotline.ie investigators will assess if it is illegal and work to have it removed. It also passes confirmed CSAM reports to the Garda.

In 2016 Hotline.ie received 7,141 tip-offs about suspected child abuse imagery, most from people who stumbled across them while browsing on the surface web. A follow-up assessment found 385 of the reports related to “child pornography” under the law.

This week its manager, Ana Niculescu, said there is concern a large amount of CSAM is being shared below the surface on “peer to peer” networks but that users are reluctant to report it when they come across it accidently.

Much of the traffic on peer to peer networks comprises pirated movies and music, which are shared among users through files known as “torrents”. However because of its decentralised nature (the files are stored in parts across many different computers), distributors of CSAM also use it as it grants a level of anonymity.

It is possible that users who may encounter these sorts of files just want to have them deleted from their system as quickly as possible

According to Ms Niculescu it is impossible to say how much child abuse material is being shared through peer to peer networks as Hotline.ie is not allowed to engage in proactive searches.

Complaints

“We can only analyse what is being reported to Hotline.ie by the public, and rely on further information provided during briefings and in expert training meetings by either law enforcement or other independent experts.”

When files containing CSAM are detected on peer to peer they tend to contain massive collections of videos or libraries of images depicting child sex abuse.

Children are accessing hardcore, frequently violent, porn, roughly around the time they get their own smartphone. Photograph: iStock
In 2016 Hotline.ie received 7,141 tip-offs about suspected child abuse imagery, most from people who stumbled across them while browsing on the surface web. File photograph: iStock

Between 2013 and 2017, Hotline.ie received just 14 complaints relating to suspected CSAM on peer to peer networks. Ms Niculescu warned the complaints are likely to represent a very small fraction of what is being shared.

“It is possible that users who may encounter these sorts of files just want to have them deleted from their system as quickly as possible or could be concerned that they may become the target of investigations based on how they came across the content,” she said.

The Hotline.ie service is confidential and by design our web reporting forms are set to be anonymous. Furthermore, we don’t use cookies or any form of tracking

According to Hotline.ie, users are possibly concerned they could be prosecuted for downloading pirated movies and music if they come forward about CSAM they inadvertently encounter.

Anonymity

In 2014, Paul Durrant of the Irish Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland (ISPAI), which funds Hotline.ie, told a Department of Justice Committee people may be afraid of reporting CSAM on peer to peer networks “because if they are involved in the illegal downloading of music they might be afraid”.

The fact that Hotline.ie is managed and funded by the Irish ISPs’ umbrella group may add to this fear of prosecution.

Ms Niculescu told The Irish Times any reports to Hotline.ie are treated confidently and that users can make a report in anonymity.

“The Hotline.ie service is confidential and by design our web reporting forms are set to be anonymous. Furthermore, we don’t use cookies or any form of tracking to identify reporters. If reporters choose to provide contact details we keep these confidential and, once the report is closed, their contact details are anonymised,” she said.

“Hotline.ie is only interested in the alleged CSAM filename – we have no interest in how the reporter encountered the reported CSAM, irrespective of the internet service they are reporting, or who they are.”