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Opportunistic online offending is “critical concern” to government during COVID-19 pandemic

The Minister of State for Security has written to industry partners on countering online child sexual exploitation and abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter states that opportunistic online offending during COVID-19 is a matter of critical concern to the UK government, we well as its US, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian counterparts, all of whom jointly launched a set of Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse on 5 March 2020.

“I am pleased to see that many companies and non-government organisations have already publicly endorsed these principles, signifying an important first step towards cross-sector action to address the scale and complexity of this evolving problem. While I look forward to ensuring long-term progress against each of these principles, I am writing to you now because the COVID-19 global pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges that we must collectively meet head on,” said the Rt Hon James Brokenshire, Minister of State for Security.

Both children and offenders are spending significantly more time at home and online as a result of measures put in place to try and combat the coronavirus pandemic. Technology companies are often the first to become aware of online child abuse on their platforms and will be vital to combatting this problem as it manifests, the letter states.

Law enforcement agencies in the UK, US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia counterparts are working tirelessly to keep our citizens safe from those who wish to do them harm, the letter added. Governments will continue to communicate risks to parents and children and provide access to support services and trusted resources, ensuring that all sectors are equipping themselves to prevent and disrupt offenders. The most vulnerable people will be educated about how online platforms and services are used to facilitate abuse.

“The Voluntary Principles set out the full scope of the online child sexual exploitation and abuse threat. Now more than ever, governments and digital industry need to engage in an open dialogue focussed on urgent concerns, particularly the COVID19-specific increase in grooming and livestreaming. Frank and collaborative exchange of information is the standard we must meet, and I call upon you all to engage with officials in the UK Home Office and their Five Country counterparts, as well as law enforcement and NGOs, to share key trends and insights your companies are seeing at this time, as well as the safeguards and protective measure you are putting in place,” the letter concluded.

Countering online child sexual exploitation and abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic

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