All must do more to block child porn sites, say activists


PETALING JAYA: Child rights activists are pressing for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to do more to prevent access to online sexual images of children.

Lawyer Srividhya Ganapthy said specific laws requiring ISPs to report and block websites containing child abuse materials were needed.

“The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Content Code has provisions for a whole range of things, which the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) can block. Child pornography is listed here as strictly prohibited.

“However, this is not an Act of Parliament but merely a code of conduct,” said Srividhya, who is the Malaysian Bar Child Rights Committee co-chairman.

She cited laws in the United States where ISPs were obligated to issue a report to a national agency should they find websites or instances in which children had been sexually exploited.

The report, she said, would contain the e-mail or Internet Protocol (IP) address of the person accessing such websites, the history of the transmission of images as well the geographical area.

In the US, any information relating to the identity of an individual who appears to have violated a federal law concerning child pornography has to be reported by the country’s ISP to the authorities.

Currently, under the Sexual Offences against Children Act 2017, any involvement in making or producing child pornography can see a punishment of up to 30 years in jail and a whipping of not less than six strokes.

Those accessing or possessing child pornography can also be slammed with a five-year jail term or a fine of up to RM10,000 or both.

While the Act stipulates that those who fail to give information concerning child porn can be fined up to RM5,000, it does not deal with the shutting down or the blocking of any website hosting such images in Malaysia.

Srividhya said the full burden of tackling the circulation of child abuse materials however should not lie solely on the ISPs.

“Companies can do their bit by incorporating this into their employees’ handbook to spell it out that if an employee is found downloading or accessing such sites at work, this would be grounds for dismissal and a serious misconduct,” said Srividhya.

“There should be public education on how to report child abuse materials as well as the fact that when you do report such sites, it makes a difference because the page or site can be blocked,” said Srividhya.

The crime of accessing child abuse materials was not viewed seriously enough, she said.

Relating a 2017 incident during which one of her corporate clients discovered their employee accessing such images, she said:

“My client lodged a report, handed the laptop over to the police and offered their fullest cooperation. But they were dismayed to find that the police did not charge the perpetrator under the provisions of the Sexual Offences Against Children Act,” she said.

Srividhya said although the police had taken a good step forward by setting up the Malaysia Internet Crime Against Children Investigation Unit, not much was known about the criminal prosecutions that had ensued from it.

A recent survey has placed Malaysia in the 20th position out of 40 countries, ranked according to their response to the threat of child sexual abuse. It noted that ISPs in Malaysia were not obligated by law to block offensive content involving child sex abuse.

Released in January, the survey, titled “Out of the Shadows”, was carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a research division of The Economist Group, the sister company to The Economist newspaper.

It ranked the countries based on their legal framework, government commitment and the level of engagement of industry and civil society against child sexual abuse.

EIU public policy consultant Katherine Stewart said many globally recognised authorities on ending online child sexual abuse had highlighted the role of ISPs in ensuring online child protection.

It was important for the government to make it mandatory for ISPs to block such sites, she said in an interview.

“While law enforcement agencies are working to catalogue and combat such abuse through initiatives like Interpol’s International Child Sexual Exploitation image database, this is not enough.

“ISPs are uniquely situated to be able to track, remove and hold records of such material,” she said.

Voice of the Children chairman Sharmila Sekaran said Internet companies could do more in combating accessibility to child pornography.

“There could be more vigilance on their part because they have the technology to block such access. As an independent citizen, it is hard for us to track child porn websites and to report them.

“ISPs and telecommunications companies however can set up a system to block certain IP addresses and portals before anyone can access them,” she said.

However, P.S. The Children executive director Mariza Abdulkadir said more focus should be placed on the enforcement of existing legislation against child porn.

“We need to focus more on an effective approach to the implementation of the law rather than to create more laws,” he said.

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