We commend you on your work towards implementing harsher penalties for people who access child exploitation material. The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Crimes Against Children and Community Protection Measures) Bill 2017 [Provisions] will go a long way toward this aim.
Collective Shout is a growing grassroots movement against the objectification of women and the sexualisation of girls. We are a not-for-profit with no affiliation to religious or political institutions. We are encouraged to see that the government is serious about protecting children globally by responding to community concerns and recent cases of child sexual exploitation.
We are concerned however, that the current reading in parliament suggests these changes will not go far enough. Not only do paedophiles require harsher sentencing, but Internet Service Providers MUST be held accountable for disclosing all information about suspected offenders to law enforcement. At present, there are many loopholes that protect suspected paedophiles. Between January and May 2017 there were 79 suspected online child sex offenders that were not investigated because ISPs did not hand over data to Police (ABC 7.30 report). We are calling on MPs to ensure the Criminal Code amendments will address the loopholes that allow offenders to be protected by ISP companies and continue to commit the most abhorrent of crimes against children in Australia and abroad.
These suggested amendments came out of the inquiry into Human Trafficking, Sexual Slavery, and Slavery Like Practices recommendations submitted in July 2017. It is our understanding that the amendments will supersede any recommendations made in the inquiry. If this is the case, will the recommendations made by the Nick Xenophon party in relation to holding ISP’s more accountable be taken into consideration? The NXT recommendation submitted as additional comments states:
NXT recommends that amendments be made to strengthen the Criminal
Code by clarifying what information must be provided by internet service
providers and internet content hosts where the information requested is in the
possession or control of the internet service provider/content host. The type of
information NXT believe must be handed over includes names, email addresses,
billing addresses, geographic location and user names.
Collective Shout strongly supports the recommendation that there is a new Industry Code to guide Internet Service Providers and Telecommunication Companies in their obligations to protect children. We commend to you the report ‘Behind the Screen: Online Child Exploitation in Australia’ and support the recommendation of Anti-Slavery Australia to set up a new Industry Code to assist ISPs in better responding to suspected criminal activity online. We believe this would be a step in the right direction to strengthen these companies’ abilities to assist in investigating and prosecuting such crimes, as well as assist in identifying and rescuing exploited children.
Collective Shout also recommends that ISPs be strongly encouraged to cooperate with Australian agencies undertaking investigative work into online child sexual exploitation. Collective Shout is concerned that the current requirement for ISPs to “do their best” is vague and ineffective. While ISPs may in fact be doing their best at present, community expectations and the safety of children require that more be done. Judge John Pascoe explained to 7:30 Report; "I think the public does have a right to expect that they will be part of the social contract; that they will be aware of Australia's international obligations; and that they will do their part to protect children."
We are not convinced that it is sufficient for these corporations to shift responsibility to users via terms and conditions or user agreements although it is understood that these companies do not have control over how their services are used, nor what kinds of data are accessed, and we agree that these customer agreements are essential. However, law enforcement officers have reported that Telcos are not always readily assisting with investigations of online child sexual exploitation.
We therefore support a move to substantially increase fines for ISPs which do not cooperate with law enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute these crimes. We also recommend considering the introduction of incentives for ISPs and Telcos to implement policies and practices to reduce these offences and to assist law enforcement efforts in this area.
Collective Shout would like to thank you, our Ministers, for the opportunity to contribute to this important process of updating Australia’s legislation to better protect children both at home and abroad.