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DOJ unit reports 264.63% spike in online child pornography from March 1 to May 24

THE Department of Justice (DOJ) is now pressing the country’s Internet service providers (ISPs) to comply with their duty under the law to install a program, or software that would block access to, or transmittal, of any form of child pornography.

Justice Undersecretary and spokesman Markk Perete said it has been 11 years since the passage of Republic Act 9755 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009 but ISP companies continue to be remiss of their duties.

Perete, however, said the DOJ remains optimistic that the ISPs would be able to comply with their obligations to filter out materials that exploit children.

“They know that such a legal obligation is automatically read into their franchises and permits to operate. And they realize, more than anyone, that without such technology, this trend of victimization of children who are the most vulnerable among us will remain unabated,” the DOJ official added.

Perete made the call as DOJ’s Office of Cybercrime (OOC) noted a whopping 264.63-percent increase in the number of reported online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) during the three-month quarantine period imposed by the government to contain the Covid-19 outbreak.

Data showed that from March 1 to May 24, when the country has been placed under a state of public health crisis, the DOJ-OOC said the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) had received 279,166 reported incidents of OSEC compared to 76,651 that were reported last year during the same period.

The DOJ-OOC has been designated as the point-of-contact of the NCMEC, a private, nonprofit corporation whose mission is to help find missing children, reduce child sexual exploitation, and prevent child victimization.

It is authorized by a United States law to receive reports from electronic communication service providers, such as Facebook, Yahoo! and Gmail, to obtain actual knowledge, or facts, or circumstances that sexual exploitation of children are being committed using its server facility.

In March of last year, data showed there were 23,465 reported incidents of OSEC last year, compared to the 132,192 reported incidents this year; for April, there were 24,147 reported incidents last year, compared to the 53,882 number of incidents for the same month this year; and for May1 to 24, there were 28,949 reported incidents in 2019, compared to the 93,092 reported incidents this year.

“The aforesaid increase in NCMEC CTRs [CyberTipline Report] is attributable to the fact that during the ECQ [enhanced community quarantine], strict home quarantine is observed in all households, and Internet usage surges as people stay home,” the DOJ said.

The DOJ-OOC said these reports are evaluated and assessed and if found actionable, these would be endorsed to the law-enforcement agencies, such as the National Bureau of Investigation-Anti-Human Trafficking Division (NBI-AHTRAD) and the Philippine National Police-Women and Children Protection Center (PNP-WCPC) for further investigation and appropriate action.

The matter could also be endorsed to the Bureau of Immigration (BI) in case the person involved is a traveling sex offender and can be blacklisted to prevent the person from returning to the country, while the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) provides rescue and counseling to the child victim.

It clarified that not all NCMEC CTRs received by the department are categorized as actual cases of OSEC in the country, as these were merely made available to the appropriate law-enforcement agency for further review and possible investigation.

It explained that there were instances when there were viral photos/videos, or identical potential OSEC materials, shared by several electronic communication service providers’ users that lead to the generation of multiple NCMEC CTRs with the same content.

There are also misleading digital images for instance of nude photos of children that were generated by their parents, or relatives, in good faith, where the children are not engaged in real or simulated explicit sexual activities nor lascivious exhibition of private parts of the body.

The DOJ also noted that there could be inaccurate reporting of OSEC by electronic communication service providers.

While there is no law in the country that directly defines and penalizes OSEC, Perete said, investigators and prosecutors utilize various child protection laws, such as RA 9775, RA 7610 (Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act); RA 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003; and RA 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 for the purpose indicting persons who are accused of committing OSEC.

“Technological solutions need to work alongside legal and policy in order for the Philippine government to effectively and efficiently combat OSEC,” Perete said.

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