• Child porn: Poverty’s baby

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    The smashing of a pornography ring that streamed live footage on the Internet of the sexual abuse of Filipino children has re-focused the spotlight on the country’s anti-cybercrime law.

    Last week, international news agencies reported that investigators in the Philippines, Britain and Australia and the United States worked together in dismantling the ring, and 29 arrests have been made.

    Despite the major crackdown, Philippine authorities acknowledge that much still needs to be done in the crusade against child pornography. The chief of the Philippine National Police’s Anti-Cybercrime Group said the country is one of the 10 top sources of child pornography in the world, and went as far as describing it as a “cottage industry.”

    It is difficult to eliminate because it is rooted in poverty, the official said. In the countryside, parents who eke out an existence have no qualms about letting their children perform sexual acts in front of a webcam for online viewers on the other side of the globe. The payment is tempting: as much as P1,000 a session.

    Shutting down cyberpornographers is not easy, advances in computer technology have seen to that. Anyone with a smart phone, tablet or other Internet device has ready access to thousands of sites offering online sex. And anti-cybercrime authorities are hamstrung by the refusal of telecommunications companies to open their Internet log files to law enforcers looking for evidence to nail down suspected online criminals.

    The telecoms have all the right to refuse, thanks to the Supreme Court. In October 2012, the Court stopped the implementation of the Cybercrime Prevention Act, enacted just the month before. Republic Act 10175 is the first law that tackles computer crimes, including cybersex and child pornography. Among other things, it authorizes law enforcement agencies to gather Internet data from telcos.

    The Supreme Court grounded the law following a tsunami of protests from netizens over provisions which they said curtailed the freedom of expression.

    There has been no serious effort to contest the Supreme Court order, but anti-cybercrime officials consider RA 10175 as crucial in putting cyberpornographers in the country out of business.

    While they wait for the law to be dusted off, officials are looking at another option: registering SIM cards. But this too is expected to create a wave of harsh objections from the millions of cellphone users who look at SIM registration as another inconvenience and added expense (telcos have sent notice that the cost of registering SIMs will be passed on to consumers).

    Denied the full range of legal weapons, our officials will have bank on good old sleuthing and intelligence work to go after the local purveyors of online child pornography. The Anti-Cybercime Group chief has said that the fight against child pornography “is a shared responsibility between law enforcement, members of the press, teachers, parents, non-government.” We agree a hundred percent.

    But let’s not also forget his original premise that online child pornography is a byproduct of poverty. It is a problem that needs a total government approach.

    Our officials should find ways of helping the families that have been caught in the web of child pornography get out and rebuild their lives.

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