- The Washington Times
Thursday, March 5, 2020

A coalition between the U.S. Justice Department, six tech companies and five countries have adopted 11 voluntary principles to prevent online child exploitation, Attorney General William P. Barr said Thursday.

Google, Facebook, Microsoft Twitter, Snap and Roblox said they will adopt the principles and showed their support for the measure by attending a press conference by Mr. Barr and his counterparts from other nations.

Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom will also join the United States in promoting the principles they say will improve child safety.

Mr. Barr called the agreement a “historic event.”

“For the first time, the five countries are collaborating with tech companies to protect children against online sexual exploitation,” he said.

The principles unveiled Thursday are voluntary and include some of the same strategies tech companies are doing to identify the sharing of child pornography on their platforms.

Under the principles, companies agree to share information with each other and governments to prevent child sex abuse. It is recommended that companies report efforts to groom children for sex abuse that appear on their platforms; adopt child-specific safety measures; and block livestreaming services from broadcasting sexual exploitation.

“We stand behind these principles and will be working with our members to both spread awareness of them and redouble our efforts to bring industry together to promote transparency, share expertise and accelerate new technologies to combat online child sexual exploitation and abuse,” the coalition of tech companies said in a statement.

But the guidelines don’t offer specific steps because every online service is different. The initiative does also not include requirements to prevent encrypted images from being shared.

Mr. Barr said Thursday more needs to be done to address the transmission of encrypted images.

“They communicate using virtually unbreakable encryption,” he said. “Predators’ supposed privacy interests should not outweigh our privacy and security. There is too much at risk.”

Thursday’s Justice Department announcement comes as the Trump administration seeks to pressure companies to more aggressively combat online child sexual exploitation by threatening to dismantle a law that protects tech companies from being held responsible for obscene or offensive content posted on their platforms.

Last month, Mr. Barr said the Justice Department is weighing options to scale back or repeal the federal law, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The measure was adopted to help tech start-up companies, but the attorney general and some lawmakers have questioned if the law should be either reformed or repealed altogether.

Sens. Lindsey Graham, North Carolina Republican, and Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, have proposed legislation that would link Section 230 protections with the tech companies’ willingness to prevent online sexual exploitation

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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