The committee met with stakeholders such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and ShareChat.(Shutterstock)
The committee met with stakeholders such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and ShareChat.(Shutterstock)

MPs suggest app to monitor access to child porn online

The suggestions cover legislative, technical, social, institutional and educational interventions such as making intermediaries – companies like Facebook that runs WhatsApp and Google that owns Gmail – adhere to a code of conduct to make the internet safer for children.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON JAN 26, 2020 03:24 AM IST

A committee of parliamentarians drawn up to suggest ways to combat spread of child pornography has recommended digital messaging and social networking service providers be made to bypass end-to-end encryption to track down suspects and all devices sold in India must have new software that detects attempts to access such content.

The suggestions cover legislative, technical, social, institutional and educational interventions such as making intermediaries – companies like Facebook that runs WhatsApp and Google that owns Gmail – adhere to a code of conduct to make the internet safer for children and for changes to existing laws that make punishment harsher for convicts and gives the government more powers to block suspect online content.

“It (the committee) also feels that the Prime Minister should take the lead in building up a global political alliance to combat child pornography on social media along the lines of the initiative he took to create the International Solar Alliance. He could do this either at the G-20 or at the United Nations,” said the report that was submitted to Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu on Saturday.

The committee has also urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to flag the issue of child pornography and the measures required to combat it in his radio broadcast Mann Ki Baat and that there must be “mandatory apps on all devices sold in India that monitors children’s access to pornographic content”.

The 14-member committee, led by Congress MP Jairam Ramesh, was set up in December by Naidu after some members voiced concern over widespread misuse of social media for accessing pornographic content and child abuse. The committee met with stakeholders such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and ShareChat.

Among the other recommendations is introducing new provisions in Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) act to punish anyone who reaches out to a child with the intent of – whether personally or on behalf of someone else – sexual assault.

A third key recommendation was to amend the information technology law to punish people letting children access or pornography or those that play a part in sharing pornographic content involving children.

Campaigns in schools to dissuade risky sexual behaviour such as sexting, a new tip line and cooperation with foreign countries to track down illegal sexual content on platforms such as the dark web were among other significant suggestions.

Digital rights activists said the technical recommendations were problematic since such measures can potentially create a mass surveillance infrastructure since there are little legal safeguards against government snooping. “Such oversight is a product of the committee concluding its entire work within 4 weeks and not putting out a call for evidence or invited experts from the fields of gender, childcare or digital rights,” said Apar Gupta of Internet Freedom Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that works for online freedom.

End-to-end encryption is a security practice standard across the world and makes digital communications virtually impossible to snoop on. At present, companies such as Facebook cooperate with authorities by giving access to data stored on their servers.

The Posco act was amended in August to make punishments stricter for many offences, and including provisions that for the first time laid down punishment for using children in acts of pornography. Lawmakers are still fine-tuning more regulations for digital companies to check the spread of content such as child pornography and rumours that incite violence.

The committee also suggested that some NGOs/activists should be allowed to carry out investigations to trace abusers of children by using child pornographic content as bait once they obtain approval for a new nodal agency that it also recommended be set up.

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