Thursday, 17 December 2020
Department of Justice and Equality
480. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the position regarding the delivery of actions 13.1 and 13.2 of the Action Plan for Online Safety 2018-2019; the specific actions that have been made to ensure industry signs up, complies and adheres to the ISPA code of practice and ethics; the current sign-up percentage; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44387/20]
481. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the position regarding the delivery of action 13.3 of the Action Plan for Online Safety 2018-2019; if the engagement has taken place; when this extension will take place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44388/20]
482. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the position regarding the delivery of action 13.5 of the Action Plan for Online Safety 2018-2019; the results that have been found from this; if legislation is required; if she plans to extend the powers of proactively searching for child sexual abuse material online to hotline.ie; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44389/20]
483. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the position regarding the delivery of action 14.2 of the Action Plan for Online Safety 2018-2019; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44390/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 480 to 483, inclusive, together.
The Government remains committed to improving online safety and a range of measures in this regard are included in the new Programme for Government, Our Shared Future. In addition, my Department continues to implement the commitments made under the Action Plan for Online Safety 2018-19 which fall under its remit.
As the Deputy will be aware, actions 13.1 and 13.2 from the Action Plan for Online Safety commit my Department to conducting a review of current codes of practice and ethics with a view to deepening cooperation with the industry for taking down child abuse and other illegal material, and to increasing participation by Internet Service Providers in the code of practice and ethics.
In May 2019, my Department organised the first of what is envisaged to be regular consultations and exchanges with Industry. The discussions between officials from my Department and the industry representatives focused on improving the existing structures and processes to report and remove illegal content as well as what a future framework for tackling illegal content might look like. Other issues addressed the current model of self-regulation, alternative future models and what forms of illegal content should be covered by these mechanisms and models.
In July 2020, the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland (ISPAI) completed a rebranding of Hotline.ie and published a new Code of Practice for member companies. The corporate rebranding, alongside changes made to the Code of Practice, demonstrates the broadening application of this national reporting service beyond traditional internet service providers to all parts of the tech industry.
The new Hotline.ie Code of Practice features guidance on general good practice, clear and detailed 'Notice and Takedown' procedures for member companies, regulations regarding breaches of the code, complaints procedures, adjudication procedures as well as sanctions and remedies.
I have issued letters to 87 ISP companies, who are not currently Hotline.ie members, to encourage them to become members and to participate in this new Code of Practice. In addition, copies of the new Code of Practice, and a letter encouraging continued membership, was also sent to all current member companies. I understand that discussions are currently ongoing between Hotline.ie and a number of companies to finalise their membership. My Department is in the process of organising a targeted event, provisionally scheduled for Q1 2021, with a view to further highlighting the importance of corporate membership of the national reporting service.
The Deputy will also be aware that Action 13.3 of the Action Plan for Online Safety states "We will engage with providers to extend the Garda blocking initiative to those providers with the largest share of the market".
The Garda Blocking Initiative (GBI) is a voluntary scheme, overseen by my Department, under which Irish ISPs and An Garda Síochána collaborate to block access to illegal child sexual abuse material (CSAM), in accordance with provisions contained in the 2011 Directive on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography.
Under the scheme, An Garda Síochána provides ISPs with a list of websites verified by AGS as having been used in the distribution of material depicting the sexual abuse of children, defined as child pornography by Section 2 of the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998, as amended. The ISP's agree to block access to these web pages and any customer attempting to land on the page is instead redirected to a Garda stop page which outlines why access has been blocked and provides an email address for any related queries. The purpose of preventing access to such pages is to protect consumers, including children, from viewing documented CSAM and to prevent the further exploitation of children who have already been abused and photographed.
The successful extension of the Garda Blocking Initiative (GBI) under Action 13.3 was a direct result of consultations organised by my Department with An Garda Síochána and Irish ISPs over a number of months in 2019. I am pleased that the Industry sign-up to the GBI has now increased from one ISP to seven. The seven ISPs between them hold over 90% of the market share for the provision of fixed broadband services across Ireland and over 95% of the retail mobile market. An Garda Síochána have signed memoranda of understanding with each of the ISPs concerned. An Garda Síochána held an event on 10 February 2020 to officially launch the expansion of the scheme and to coincide with the 2020 Safer Internet Day on 11 February.
My Department maintains an active watching brief in relation to technology and policy developments associated with action 13.5 – addressing the need to explore the feasibility of proactively engaging in searches for CSAM online. While this action has been achieved, my Department remains open to further activity in this area, given the rapid evolution of the online space.
Prior to the launch of the Action Plan for Online Safety, An Garda Síochána initiated Operation Ketch, an ongoing Child Protection operation, undertaken in cooperation with international partners. Operation Ketch involves targeting those who possess and distribute CSAM either through online platforms or via File Sharing Networks and sends the message to persons distributing CSAM that An Garda Síochána will actively identify and pursue them.
Proactive search was an area of considerable discussion at EU and international level throughout 2019. My Department's engagement on this action was central to a site visit to the UK's Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and the UK Home Office in early 2019, and was a subject of discussions with the ISP Industry at my Department's event in May 2019.
Proactive searching is also a possible responsibility of the proposed European centre to prevent and counter child sexual abuse, under the EU strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse, published in July 2020.
Given the above, and also taking account of the findings of an EU Commission study published last August, work is ongoing to examine the need to renew and repurpose the operational relationship of Hotline.ie with key stakeholders across a number of fronts.
Action 14.2 of the Action Plan for Online Safety commits to working with industry to publish regular transparency reports in relation to illegal and harmful content.
Under this action, my Department has responsibility for 'Illegal Content', while 'Harmful Content', as addressed in the recently published Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill, is the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media.
Work is ongoing in my Department under this action in relation to illegal content through preparations on the proposal for an EU Regulation on addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online. The Deputy will be aware that political agreement between the European Council and the Parliament on this Regulation was achieved on 10 December.
Once approved, this new Regulation will require hosting service providers to produce annual transparency reports. The relevant competent authorities of Member States will also be required to produce annual transparency reports.
In addition, the Proposal for an EU Regulation on a Single Market for Digital Services (Digital Services Act) and amending Directive 2000/31/EC, published on 15 December 2020, includes a wide range of measures relating to illegal content online including transparency obligations which will be considered in due course.