Surge in online child sex offenses triggers penalties vs. telco firms

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — An alarming surge in child sexual exploitation online during the pandemic has caught the attention of Malacañang which has ordered penalizing telco firms supposedly for failing to prevent the proliferation of the illicit activity.

From around 19,000 suspicious transactions for all of 2019, cases reported to regulators more than doubled last year to 49,937, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said in a briefing on Tuesday.

What’s more alarming, victims of these illicit activities have a median age of 11 years old, part of the younger age groups told to stay home and greatly exposed to online activities while prohibited from going out. 

As an immediate response, Nograles said the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) was ordered “to immediately impose sanctions on internet service providers (ISP) for failure to fulfill their duties under Republic Act 9775” or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009.

“If you want to stamp out child pornography in the country, I think we have to start with our ISPs. So ISPs, you are hereby duly served with notice of your obligations under RA 9775,” he pointed out.

In particular, RA 9775 mandates ISPs, which includes telco firms, to notify police authorities within 7 days upon knowledge that a server was used for child pornography, and preserve that evidence. As long-term precaution, the law requires ISPs to install defenses against child pornography to prevent violations in the first place.

It was unclear how the NTC, which did not respond to request for comment as of this posting, will penalize telcos like Globe Telecom Inc. and PLDT Inc., but under the law, Nograles said fines can reach P1 million on first offense. After a second offense, ISP’s licenses to operate may be revoked.

Sought for comment, Ma. Yolanda Crisanto, senior vice-president at Globe, said the Ayala-led telco was not remised on installing safeguards against child pornography on its network. “We do have a filtering system in place already,” she said in a text message.

“I believe we are the only ISP with an existing filtering system against this type of content. So we have been able to block this content only as allowed by law,” she added.

PLDT would replicate such system, the company said last month, under which surfers will be redirected to another website that would show that the earlier accessed site violates laws. Ahead of that last September, the Pangilinan-led firm also said to have blocked 2,900 sites linked to online sexual exploitation.

That said, Crisanto said Globe is prepared to cooperate with the authorities should additional defenses be required. “We anticipate stepped up requirements (from government) and we will do our very best to meet these,” she said.

Law amendments required

Ultimately though, the Executive department said legislators should give the government more power under RA 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act to fully address the growing problem. Amendments proposed were allowing to wiretap activities related to trafficking in persons, as well as expanding the membership of the interagency council against trafficking led by the justice department.

The Commission on Human Rights on July 30 last year said that the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the livelihoods of people rendered many Filipinos more vulnerable to exploitation.

RELATED: Pandemic leaves vulnerable Filipinos more prone to exploitation, CHR says

CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said then: “This desperate situation, coupled with confinement at home, has led to the increase in cybersex trafficking and online sexual exploitation of children.”

The National Bureau of Investigation is also conducting a probe into reports that students offered a “Christmas sale” of their sensual photos and videos to obtain money for gadgets to be used in distance learning classes. — with Prinz Magtulis






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