The future of Internet Hotlines hangs in the balance

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The existence of Internet Hotlines dedicated to fighting Online Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) may come under threat in 2016, if the European Parliament adopts its Resolution on the fight against CSAM in plenary this Wednesday without amending the glaring omission on supporting Hotlines.

Internet Hotlines provide secure and confidential reporting facilities where members of the public may report suspected illegal content, particularly Online Child Sexual Abuse Material, accidentally encountered on the Internet.

Hotlines are needed especially for assessing Online CSAM and issuing “notice and takedown” as legislation makes it illegal for this to be done by ISPs alone, while Hotlines are covered by special agreements with national Governments and Law Enforcement Agencies.

Currently there is a network of 51 Internet Hotlines across 45 countries worldwide. The network is coordinated by the International Association of Internet Hotlines (INHOPE), which has been funded by the European Commission since 1999.

ISPAI’s members, together with our European counterparts, are at the forefront of the fight at both national and international levels against such abhorrent content being distributed over the Internet. Our members, Internet Services Providers (ISPs), comply with the Directives on fighting Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) and swiftly remove illegal content in cooperation with police and hotlines.

With the volume and complexity of reports increasing each year and funding already cut to the bone, many national Internet Hotlines face financial difficulty. Thus far, European Hotlines have been in receipt of grant support from the European Commission, but funds are set to permanently end in 2016.

In an effort to raise awareness on this issue ISPAI has sent out letters to all Irish MEPs. This complements the letter sent by EuroISPA to  European Parliamentary Group leaders imploring lawmakers to use the Resolution to launch a discussion with the European Commission and Member States to find solutions to the Internet Hotline funding crisis. If this does not occur, the network of Hotlines which has proven so effective in the battle against CSAM may collapse.

Paul Durrant Chief Executive of ISPAI, Manager of Hotline.ie and Co-Chair of EuroISPA Safer Internet Committee said: “If the Resolution is adopted as stands, we will have the contradictory situation of a European Parliament supporting the fight against CSAM, while at the same time undermining the very existence of the most powerful tool in the battle against such content.”