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Safety concerns ISPCC warn new privacy laws could result in 46,000 daily reports of child sex abuse being missed

The charity says these new privacy rules could prevent online giants from using software that automatically scans their systems for such images.

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Copyright: Karel Miragaya

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New privacy rules designed to protect private online communications from being monitored by internet companies could mean that thousands of images of child sexual abuse and grooming could be missed, the Irish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) has warned. 

The children's charity has expressed concern at the prospect of "vital child protection" measures becoming illegal as a result of a failure at EU level to resolve a row over privacy laws.

The charity says these new privacy rules could prevent online giants from using software that automatically scans their systems for such images.

They say that for every day that the use of detection tools is not permitted, 46,000 reports of such material could be missed.

"Children have a right to be safe: Both online and offline,” ISPCC chief executive, John Church, said.

“ There is an onus on us all to do all we can to uphold this right. It is inconceivable, therefore, that our European representatives have failed to take swift action to protect children who are victims of the most heinous crime of childhood sexual abuse.

"Devastatingly, it now seems that the use of the vital tools is set to become illegal. The exact implications for children of this potential development remain somewhat unclear."

He added: "What kind of message are our representatives sending to children, and young people, across Europe this Christmas, by appearing to disregard their privacy, protection, dignity, and bodily integrity? In their failure to show decisive leadership on this important matter, they are putting children at further risk.

"It is shameful that we have arrived at this impasse," Mr Church said. "Ultimately, it is predators and perpetrators who are best-served. A resolution must be now found, until formal talks reconvene."

Last week, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said sexual exploitation and sexual abuse has devastating consequences for child victims, their families and society.

The minister was speaking after a Cabinet decision to finally enact an international convention on child sexual abuse — some 13 years after Ireland signed the legally-binding agreement.

Minister McEntee said: “Protecting children is a key priority for this Government, and ratifying the Convention delivers an important message that Ireland is committed to the fight against these reprehensible crimes which target some of the most vulnerable.”

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