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Internet Service Providers' Association of Ireland

The voice of the Online Industry in Ireland

Industry Self-Regulation Model

Self-regulation is usually defined as a regulatory process whereby an Industry-level organisation, such as a trade Association, as opposed to a Government body, sets and enforces rules and standards relating to the conduct of companies in the Industry. However, in Ireland the Internet Service Providers [ISPs] have been operating within an Industry self-regulatory framework, agreed and overseen by Government [Department of Justice and Equality] since 1998.

The model was one of the key recommendation of the Government’s working Group on the Illegal and Harmful Use of the Internet (1998). This model has been further acknowledged and included in the 1st National Action Plan for Online Safety launched by the Taoiseach in July 2018.

In Ireland, the sexual abuse, sexual coercion and sexual exploitation of children are offences under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998 [as amended by the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017].

The Industry Self-regulation model requires the existence of an Industry Code of Practice and Ethics (managed by ISPAI) centred on the existence of a national Internet Hotline Service (Hotline.ie) where the public may report suspected illegal content online, such as Child Sexual Abuse Imagery (CSAI) or activities relating to the sexual exploitation of children.

The Department of Justice and Equality has primary responsibility to monitor and ensure appropriate operation of the Industry Code of Practice and Ethics, Hotline.ie Service and wider self-regulatory system.

Additionally, the 2000-31-EC e-Commerce Directive provides ISPs with the “mere conduit” exemption from liability for illegal content on their systems, providing that on gaining knowledge of its existence they act expeditiously to remove it. ISPAI Hotline.ie plays a central role in this process by providing a shared service to Online Industry to fulfil the key requirements of the “Notice and Takedown” (NTD) procedure. ISPAI (1) provides a free, easy to access reporting service [Hotline.ie] where the public may anonymously and confidentially submit reports of suspected illegal content; (2) has internationally trained and certified (INHOPE/INTERPOL) content analysts to verify if the reported content is probably illegal under Irish law; (3) when content is classified as illegal under Irish law issues qualified, simultaneous notice to law enforcement and the appropriate service/content provider to initiate the “Notice and takedown” procedure (removal of the illegal content from the Internet).

ISPAI can deliver the Hotline.ie Service, prerequisite to the Notice and Takedown mechanism, on behalf of its member Internet companies through special agreement with Government and An Garda Síochána. Operating outside of the agreement would be in violation of Irish law which states it is illegal for anyone to “knowingly obtain access to child pornography by means of information and communication technology” (Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998 [as amended by the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017).

ISPAI members adherence and compliance with the Industry Code of Practice and Ethics ensures: (1) efficient and effective standards of co-operation with Hotline.ie Service/ An Garda Síochána; (2) dedicated point of contact for CSAI NTD; (3) acknowledgement of Hotline.ie having the expertise to be authoritative in determining whether or not content is illegal under Irish law; and (4) agreed takedown and preservation of evidence for Law Enforcement investigation procedures.

This means ISPAI members can rely on verified NTD, allowing one’s technicians to effect takedown of specified content, in confidence, without having to access and view the material. By co-funding the Hotline.ie Service and complying with Notice and Takedown mechanism, ISPAI members make sure their networks and services are safe and that they are in a position to act against Child Sexual Abuse Imagery if it does somehow get placed on/through their systems.

In curbing the availability and proliferation of child sexual abuse on the Internet, disrupting the cycle of child sexual exploitation and preventing repeat-victimisation, the Industry self-regulation model with embedded Code of Practice and Ethics, Hotline Service and Notice and Takedown mechanism pioneered by Ireland,  Austria, Germany, France and United Kingdom almost two decades ago, has stood the test of time and it is recognised worldwide as a vital and efficient solution in tackling this heinous crime against children.

In the spirit of transparency and accountability ISPAI publishes every year Hotline.ie Annual Report providing facts, figures and analysis of trends in respect of national and international efforts undertaken for combating child sexual exploitation online.

For further reference on Industry Self-regulation in Ireland please visit http://www.internetsafety.ie/en/is/pages/self-regulation