Mar 5, 2020 - Technology

U.S. launches global fight on online child exploitation

A photo of Attorney General Bill Barr
U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

The Trump administration on Thursday announced an initiative with four other countries aimed at combatting the online sexual exploitation and abuse of children.

The big picture: The move comes in the form of a set of voluntary principles crafted in consultation with industry, suggesting the administration is still looking to work constructively with Big Tech on the issue, despite heated Washington rhetoric around using the law to compel firmer action.

Driving the news: U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr said the other countries of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance — Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom — will join the effort.

  • The officials announced 11 voluntary principles backed by tech companies meant to establish a baseline for companies to deter the use of the internet to exploit children.
  • They include proactively identifying material depicting or encouraging child sexual abuse and reporting it to law enforcement, as well as doing the same for exploitative behavior, such as using online platforms to groom minors.

Background: Barr highlighted the cooperation from Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Snapchat and Roblox in crafting the principles.

  • Those companies are part of a broader Technology Coalition formed in 2006 to fight child sexual exploitation online.
“We stand behind these principles and will be working with our members to both spread awareness of them and redouble our efforts to bring industry together to promote transparency, share expertise and accelerate new technologies to combat online child sexual exploitation and abuse.”
Technology Coalition joint statement.

Between the lines: The moves from the administration come as lawmakers seek to pressure tech companies to take more action against child exploitation online by threatening the industry's liability shield, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

  • The "EARN IT" Act from Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-NC) and Richard Blumenthal (D- Conn.) would condition some Section 230 protections on complying with best practices to prevent online child sexual exploitation.
  • Those best practices would be developed by a commission that includes the attorney general, leading some critics to fear Barr would condition 230 protections on law enforcement access to encrypted communications.
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