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Media Minster Catherine Martin was outspoken about the issue

Media Minster Catherine Martin was outspoken about the issue

Media Minster Catherine Martin was outspoken about the issue

THE Government's new Online Safety Commissioner won't proactively target child abuse imagery in messaging services such as WhatsApp.

In a blow for online safety campaigners, it has emerged that where an online service is encrypted, the commissioner will not compel tech companies to search for illegal material.

Media Minister Catherine Martin said, instead, policing child abuse imagery and non-consensual intimate photographs will mostly remain an activity for tech companies and An Garda Síochána, despite legislative provisions that could enable the new commissioner to compel greater compliance.

It comes after an investigation revealed that thousands of images of Irish children have been secretly harvested and stolen to be uploaded to sex websites around the globe.

The investigation showed that photos and videos, posed for and created by children, are uploaded to platforms and harvested by other users for distribution on photo sharing sites or pornographic platforms.

Ms Martin said that although the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill covers messaging and storage services on issues of illegal content, the Government and any newly created Online Safety Commissioner must tread a "fine line" between privacy and online safety.

This would mean where an online service is encrypted, such as WhatsApp, the commissioner will not compel the company to search for illegal material nor ask it to alter the service's default privacy settings.

A spokesperson for Ms Martin's department said European GDPR law might also prevent stronger action on the issue.

However, new fines of up to 10pc of annual turnover will be introduced for violations of other requests from the Online Safety Commissioner, on issues such as cyber-bullying, self-harm, eating disorders and suicide.

Criminal liability for directors or executives of big tech firms "who fail to comply" with a warning from the Online Safety Commissioner will also be introduced.

This means that if large online platforms based here are found to have breached the new regulator's code or have ignored its directions, they could be looking at billions of euros in fines.

"The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill is not a panacea," a spokesperson for Ms Martin said.

"It is designed to work in tandem with both criminal law and telecommunications law.

Enforcement

"An unintended consequence of the adoption of the GDPR is that online messaging services could be prevented from using scanning and machine learning technologies to detect and remove child sexual abuse materials."

The spokesperson said the Bill allows for action against illegal material such as child abuse content on messaging services, but that enforcement is dependent on whether the tech companies use encryption or not.

"What those measures are will differ depending on whether the service is not encrypted, middleman encrypted or end-to-end encrypted," he said.

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