Opinion | Fighting Online Child Sex Abuse

To the Editor:

“Child Sex Abusers Elude Flimsy Digital Safeguards” (“Exploited” series, front page, Nov. 10) should be a wake-up call for the tech industry. It is no longer acceptable to hide behind “privacy laws” when the health, well-being and future of so many children and young people are at stake.

Now is the time for tech companies to put the safety of children first and own up to their responsibility in ending sexual exploitation and the abuse of children online. They must use their position and resources to invest in the technological solutions that identify and promptly take down abusive material, as well as work with national and international law enforcement to put in place robust reporting processes and legal accountability.

No child should be exposed to the perpetual cycle of abuse and trauma that the article describes.

Henrietta Fore
New York
The writer is executive director of UNICEF.

To the Editor:

Your article highlights how certain decisions now being made unilaterally by top technology companies will enable despicable child pornographers to evade detection and arrest.

The internet created a new foothold for the production and trading of child pornography. Now, as sophisticated encryption capabilities are being made available to customers of messaging apps and social media companies, these vile criminals will be able to conduct business undetected.

High-profile companies like Facebook and Apple have flatly stated that they plan no accommodation for law enforcement access to encrypted communications, calling it a “back door” that should not be allowed. Court-ordered surveillance is not a back door; it is a time-honored and legitimate right of government to protect the citizenry.

Law enforcement agencies have instead turned to the private sector, where innovative workarounds to break through encryption to obtain criminal communications are being developed. We are fortunate such private industry initiatives exist.

These tools have already played a critical role in rescuing victims of sex trafficking, thwarting international terrorist attacks and keeping children safe.

The tug of war between protecting legitimate privacy and eradicating heinous criminality is certainly worthy of healthy debate. But what is not debatable is the need for leading-edge technology that can remove the canopy of encryption when children’s lives are at risk.

Promoting privacy shouldn’t mean that criminals are free to operate unchecked in secrecy. And such determinations should not be the sole purview of large technology companies.

Kevin R. Brock
Leesburg, Va.
The writer, a former F.B.I. assistant director for intelligence, is the founder and principal of a consultancy to companies that sell technology for investigations and intelligence gathering to the government.

To the Editor:

There are steps the government and the public can press for now to get tech companies to be more effective in shutting down child pornography.

First, it is not enough to simply pull down these images when they are reported. Tech platforms should also pass on internet provider addresses and payment information to law enforcement so more perpetrators can be found and prosecuted offline.

Second, Congress must scale back the sweeping legal immunity in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that prevents abuse victims from seeking justice. That would give tech companies a greater incentive to develop technologies that work for victims, not against them.

The Trump administration should stop its trade representative from including these flawed, dangerous immunities in trade agreements, to prevent this abuse from simply shifting abroad. If it is illegal offline, it should be illegal online.

Finally, we must continue to name and shame the companies for their role in this utter moral disgrace.

Gretchen Peters
The writer is executive director of the Alliance to Counter Crime Online.

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