Down Under goes Up Front

The Australian e-Safety Commissoner, Julie Inman Grant, was in London yesterday for a press conference to mark the publication of  a report by  the Technical Working Group of the Child Dignity Alliance. The report addressed  the proliferation of online child sexual exploitation and sex abuse imagery on the internet.

The Alliance was launched last year by Pope Francis and the  Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. I was honoured to attend the inauguration and subsequently to be invited to join the Working Group.

Pope Francis is an individual with huge moral authority in the modern world. The fact that his name is associated with the initiative pretty much guarantees its reports and recommendations will be seen and considered by a great many policy makers and political and industry leaders who might otherwise not engage.

Another Working Group member, Baroness Beeban Kidron, joined myself and Inman Grant at the London press conference which was moderated by Professor Richard Wortley a leading scholar in the field.

Inman Grant is the Chair of the Technical Working Group and because I played such a modest role in the writing of the document I feel I can say it is without doubt one of the best summaries of the problems and what to do about them that I have ever read.  Inman Grant and her staff deserve a huge amount of credit for the report’s succinct elegance which nevertheless presents a thorough overview of the breadth and complexities of the considerable challenges.

Having praised the report for its succinct elegance I am not going to try to compress it further. It’s an easy read. I will, however, highlight two bits which particularly grabbed my attention. On page 3 it says

” The report…highlights the need to acknowledge that some of the impediments to collaboration (between key actors) are more perceived than real, more the result of custom and practice than unsolvable. More often than not, these are based on risk avoidance, lack of trust in systems, procedures and intent, and an inconsistent  application of law and policy. In some cases, barriers are a legacy of organisational history, and no longer reflect the issues that are most relevant today.”

Bang on. Then, in amongst many great recommendations, on page 7 we find this:

Industry should be strongly encouraged, or even required through domestic legislation to…..scan their networks, platforms and services….to detect known child abuse imagery.”

I’m edging more towards “required” than “encouraged”. Anyone who has read or heard the testimony of survivors of child sex abuse, where images of the abuse were made and distributed over the internet, will know how strongly they feel about getting the images removed or made inaccessible on the largest scale possible as fast as possible. This was a point made with great force by Inman Grant and reported at some length in one of our leading national newspapers.

Joseph Stalin famously once asked  “How many divisions does the Pope have?”. The answer, of course, was none but, to jump over to Victor Hugo, “there is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come”. When someone like the Pope decides to take up the cudgels you have a sense that the time is now.