Promoting Freedom of Expression while fully Supporting the Fight against Child Sexual Abuse Material — How these Interests Merge
By Patrik Hiselius and Heddy Ring, Telia Company
We both work at Telia Company, the leading network operator in the Nordics and Baltics. Telia Company’s human rights commitments cover a number of responsible business focus areas, including one on freedom of expression (led by me, Patrik) and one on children’s rights (led by me, Heddy). In this blog we share with you how our interests merge.
In the Global Network Initiative (GNI) context, we do our utmost to support and promote freedom of expression. In our call to protect children, we do our utmost to block access to child sexual abuse material (CSAM). As a free speech advocate, you might wonder how Telia Company can promote the blocking of content on the Internet. As a children’s rights advocate you might wonder what the information and communications technology (ICT) sector, and other companies, can do to fight CSAM.
Telia Company has a responsibility to respect all human rights, based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Our commitments are laid out in our statement of materiality, which highlights the Board’s and Group Executive Management’s firm belief that a stakeholder-based approach to sustainable business practices is a prerequisite for long-term value creation for shareholders and society.
As to freedom of expression and government requests, we also signed up to the GNI Principles. As to children’s rights, we have adopted the Children’s Rights and Business Principles (CRBP), developed by Save the Children, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and UN Global Compact, as a framework for our work to empower and protect children online. We are also committed to contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and one of the targets for UN Global Goal number 16, “Peace, justice and strong institutions,” is to end abuse and all forms of violence against children.
“Principle number 4 in the ‘Children’s rights and business principles’ states that companies need to ‘ensure the protection and safety of children in all business activities and facilities’.“
Telia Company started to block CSAM in the Nordics over ten years ago, based on a voluntary commitment by operators in collaboration with the child rights organization ECPAT and the respective national police authorities. We maintain filters on our networks that block access to websites defined by law enforcement to be illegal for hosting CSAM. As Telia Company stands for and promotes an open Internet, this is the only area where we have taken an active stand for voluntary blocking, driven by three goals:
- Foremost to protect children from exploitation and abuse, stopping CSAM circulating;
- To protect our subscribers not to stumble on CSAM by clicking a link in a spam or elsewhere; and
- To stop the recruitment of new consumers of CSAM materials.
Our work, together with other ICT companies, to block CSAM has been acknowledged in the Implementation Guidelines for the GNI Principles section 4.2 e) which states:
[Participants will:] Acknowledge and recognize the importance of initiatives, that seek to identify, prevent and limit access to illegal online activity such as child exploitation. The Principles and Implementation Guidelines do not seek to alter participants’ involvement in such initiatives.
According to work by the World Health Organization (WHO), every year 200 million children are sexually abused. And increasingly, much of this abuse takes place either online or is captured and digitally distributed. Telia Company continues to elaborate our call to protect children and to fight CSAM. Principle number 4 in the “Children’s rights and business principles” states that companies need to “ensure the protection and safety of children in all business activities and facilities.” This calls out for companies to ensure that its facilities and equipment are not used to abuse, exploit, or harm children, and also for companies to take appropriate action when concerns of possible violence, exploitation, or abuse arise. Therefore, we have also activated a technology in our Baltic and Nordic operations that alerts if CSAM is detected somewhere on Telia Company’s own internal IT systems and we report the incident to the police authorities. The core purpose of cleaning up the internal IT system from child sexual abuse material is to rescue children from present or future abuse. The connection between looking at CSAM and sexually abusing children is quite strong. International studies indicate that 50–60 percent of those looking at CSAM also sexually abuse children. It means that, by detecting and reporting people who watch CSAM, we can support the police in rescuing children from ongoing sexual abuse and protect other children from future abuse.
“Therefore, we have also activated a technology in our Baltic and Nordic operations that alerts if CSAM is detected somewhere on Telia Company’s own internal IT systems and we report the incident to the police authorities.”
It should be noted here as well that Telia Company supports children’s right to freedom of expression, stating that ‘it is children’s right to gather online for communication and expression.’ We acknowledge and address the need to support children and parents and caregivers with education about children’s rights and about safety online.
The GNI as such has engaged in fruitful dialog with, e.g., UNICEF on the promotion of freedom of expression and the fight against CSAM.
The current COVID-19 crisis has a big impact on children’s lives. According to UNESCO, 1.5 billion children and youth are out of schools due to school closures. Widespread economic insecurity as well as job and income loss among families are likely to increase rates of child labor, child abuse, and sexual exploitation. There will be an increased need for collaboration for companies, child rights organizations, policymakers and law enforcement to find new and effective solutions to fight CSAM.
New opportunities are presented by new technologies, such as artificial intelligence. However, these opportunities come with new challenges. We need to continue creating an integrated approach together with different stakeholders across society and the technology industry in order to achieve impact both empowering and protecting children.