With 1,987,430 reports, India accounted for 11.7% of all suspected child sexual exploitation reports received by the CyberTipline in 2019. India was followed by Pakistan with 1,158,390 reports (6.8%), Iraq with 1,026,809 reports (6.04%), Indonesia with 840,221 reports (4.95%) and Mexico with 827,998 reports (4.87%). The Hindu first reported this story but inaccurately said that Bangladesh had the third highest number of reports. Bangladesh has the eighth highest number of reports at 556,642 (3.28%). 9.8% of all reports (1,668,157) could not be attributed to a country because either the IP address was not listed in the report, or proxy IPs were used.
CyberTipline is USA’s National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) centralised reporting system where individuals and electronic service providers can report incidents of online exploitation of children, including but not limited to child pornography, child sex trafficking, suspected online enticement of children for sexual acts, etc.
53% increase in number of photos, videos reported
Compared to 2018 which saw more 18.4 million reports worldwide, 2019 saw fewer reports at 16,9 million reports. Of the reports received in 2019, 150,667 reports were sent by general public and 16,836,694 reports (99.1%) were sent by electronic service providers such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, etc. These reports included 69,158,197 images, videos and other files related to child sexual exploitation. As per a 2019 New York Times report, 45 million files were reported to NCMEC in 2018. Thus, there has been a 53% increase in the number of photos and videos reported between 2018 and 2019, despite a 7.68% decrease in the overall number of reports.
Facebook made 94% of reports against child sexual abuse material
With 15,884,511 reports, Facebook accounted for a lion’s share — 94.34% — of all reports submitted by electronic service providers. NCMEC combined the numbers for “related platforms and companies”. Thus, this number represents total reports received from Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp. In 2018, Facebook accounted for 16.8 million, or 91.3%, of the total 18.4 million worldwide reports to CyberTipline, as per the open letter sent by governments of USA, UK and Australia to Facebook last year, beseeching it not to introduce end-to-end encryption on its messaging platforms. As per NYT, Facebook Messenger accounted for 12 million of these 16.8 million reports.
In 2019, the social media juggernaut was followed by Google with 449,283 reports (2.67%), Microsoft with 123,839 reports (0.74%) and Snapchat with 82,030 reports (0.49%). INHOPE, a global network of hotlines that report online child sexual abuse material (CSAM), made 74,165 reports (0.44%) followed by Twitter with 45,726 reports (0.27%).
End-to-end encrypted messaging platforms may undermine attempts to report CSAM
In light of Facebook’s, and especially Messenger’s, massive share in reporting CSAM to NCMEC, in February 2020, 129 signatories had urged the company to resist introducing end-to-end encryption on Facebook’s messaging platforms, and their subsequent integration. End-to-end encryption, which is already the default on Facebook-owned WhatsApp, disallows anyone, except the sender and the receiver, to monitor the communication in any way, thereby turning all communication opaque to any automated or manual monitoring for CSAM. Thus far, Facebook has primarily relied on automated monitoring of content on its social media platform and on Messenger to report and take down CSAM.
The issue of tracing originators and distributors of CSAM on end-to-end encrypted messaging platforms has been brought up in the WhatsApp traceability case in India as well. There, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, on behalf of WhatsApp, had argued that even on a matter as serious as child pornography, WhatsApp’s hands were tied because of end-to-end encryption. This is why the ad hoc Rajya Sabha committee, led by Jairam Ramesh, had recommended that law enforcement agencies be allowed to break end-to-end encryption to trace distributors of child pornography. The committee had been constituted to find out ways to prevent sexual abuse of children and prohibit access and circulation of child pornography on social media.
India’s National Crime Record Bureau has an MoU with NCMEC
In April 2019, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) had signed a memorandum of understanding with NCMEC that allows NCRB to access “tipline reports” available with NCMEC about cases of child pornography and child sexual abuse. Whenever someone informs law enforcement agencies about such content, it gets converted into a “tipline report” which can be tracked owing to a unique identity number that is associated with each such report. The NCRB can then share these reports with other law enforcement agencies in the country. As per the MoU, the NCRB cannot share these reports with anyone apart from government law enforcement agencies.