Online sexual exploitation of children: The bad side of internet connectivity

Published February 12, 2021, 5:55 PM

by Jeffrey Damicog

•       In 2020, there was more than 50 percent increase in suspicious transaction reports related to online sexual exploitation of children compared to 2019.
•       According to data from the Anti-Money Laundering Council, 97 percent of payments for online sexual exploitation of children are coursed through money service businesses.
•       The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has accused 47 internet service providers of negligence in combating child pornography.
•       The NTC has started hearing the cases on Feb. 8.
•       The internet service providers in the country do not have the technology to determine if certain persons have accessed posts on child pornography, DOJ Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar, who is in-charge of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), said.

Online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) is an issue that brings up the bad side of internet connectivity, the side where easy money tips the scale of morality and principled adult guidance.

In the Philippines, OSEC is a real problem even before the pandemic took away jobs and livelihoods of many people, and selling sex over the internet presented an alternative way to make money.

With the pandemic, the problem has escalated. 

One way authorities monitor the OSEC problem is through suspicious transaction reports (STRs) monitored by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) because the exchange of money is through online transactions.

In 2020, there was more than a 50 percent increase in suspicious transaction reports related to online sexual exploitation of children compared to 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) disclosed on Tuesday, Feb. 9, the day when the country commemorated the Safer Internet Day for Children Philippines (SIDCPH).

DOJ Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar, who is in-charge of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), presented data from the AMLC which showed that there have been 47,937 suspicious transactions related to OSECs that were monitored in 2020.

In 2019, there were only 19,013 suspicious transactions monitored by the AMLC, Undersecretary Villar said.

According to the AMLC data, 97 percent of payments for OSEC are coursed through money service businesses and the top three sender countries with suspicious transaction reports connected to OSEC are the United States, Philippines and Australia, Undersecretary Villar said.

How does the child pornography operation work?

The transaction and delivery of the “product” for OSEC starts with a facilitator who authorities say is usually a female Filipino. She establishes contact with a customer (usually from a foreign country) through surface internet (social media, adult sex groups online, etc.) Based on global law enforcement data the top three countries where customers who access child sexual exploitation material from the Philippines come from are US, Sweden and Australia, Undersecretary Villar explained.

“The facilitators conduct the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and record it on video, take photos or take a livestream video and send it to the customer who usually pays for the child sexual exploitation material through money service businesses,” she said.

Meanwhile, government authorities have been working to end the illegal activity, conducting raids on suspected venues where the acts are recorded, arresting violators, and rescuing children.

The highest number of children rescued from OSEC since 2016 was recorded in 2020, Undersecretary Villar said.

She said that data from the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children (PICAC) indicated that 170 victims were rescued from various operations.

The 2019 data showed that 149 children were rescued, 113 in 2018, 79 in 2017, and 57 in 2016.

It’s still a small number to discourage more people from getting involved in online sexual exploitation of children.

According to authorities, internet service providers cannot help monitor or cut the service of anyone involved in OSEC.

“They are not able to install the necessary filtering systems and technology to intercept child sexual exploitation material. Also, given an IP address they are not able to determine the user because thousands of people share an IP address. They need a higher system version to be able to do that,” Villar explained.

47 internet service providers accused of negligence

Meanwhile, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has accused 47 internet service providers (ISPs) of negligence in combating child pornography.

“NTC already issued show cause orders to ISPs which have violated Section 9 of Republic Act No. 9775, the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009,” Undersecretary Villar said.

The NTC has started hearing the cases on Feb. 8.

Villar said the show cause orders were issued after President Duterte  approved the recommendations of the IACAT to “direct NTC to impose sanctions on ISPs for failure to fulfill duties under RA 9775.”

No technology to monitor child porn

The NTC action against the internet service providers revealed that the ISPs in the country do not have the technology to determine if certain persons have accessed posts on child pornography, Undersecretary Villar said.

Villar pointed out that “even with a court order to supply particulars of a user who has accessed child sexual exploitation material… ISPs are unable to because they have not installed the needed technology.”

She said Section 9 of Republic Act No. 9775, the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009, states that ISPs should install technology “to intercept or block access to child porn.”

Section 9 states: “An ISP shall, upon the request of proper authorities, furnish the particulars of users who gained or attempted to gain access to an internet address which contains any form of child pornography.”

It also provides that “all ISPs shall install available technology, program or software to ensure that access to or transmittal of any form of child pornography will be blocked or filtered.”

The provision in the law states that ISPs should also “notify the Philippine National Police (PNP) or the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) within seven days from obtaining facts and circumstances that any form of child pornography is being committed using its server or facility.”

There are at least seven existing laws against child porn, each with stiff sanctions and fines.

Presidential Proclamation No. 417, which was issued by President Duterte in 2018, mandates the Safer Internet Day for Children Philippines celebration on the second Tuesday of February every year.

 
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