Telco, internet service providers block 2,521 online child sexual exploitation sites

Telecommunications operators and internet service providers (ISPs) in the country have blocked a total of 2,521 online child sexual exploitation websites, the Philippine Chamber of Telecom Operators (PCTO) reported to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The PCTO said this in a position paper submitted to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

“PCTO condemns child pornography as a reprehensible crime that should be rightfully curtailed by the state. Blocking of unlawful content is a state duty which ISPs support,” the group said.

PCTO is the umbrella organization of telecommunication companies and internet service providers (ISPs) in the country, including telco giants PLDT Incorporated and Ayala-owned Globe Telecom.

The group acknowledged their duty under Republic Act (RA) No. 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009, to install a program or software that will block access to or transmittal of any form of OSEC.

Section 9 of RA 9775 provides that within 7 days from discovery, ISPs must notify authorities of any form of OSEC being committed through their servers or facilities.

PCTO members have been in close coordination with the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), the Philippine National Police (PNP), and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in blocking OSEC sites.

The NTC – a member of the Inter-Agency Council Against Child Pornography (IACAP) – has endorsed over 6,000 websites and links to PCTO for blocking.

Tools vs OSEC

Globe has invested in a $2.7-million software filtering system to  support its “PlayItRight” campaign which targets illegal or pirated content and OSEC.

Through their Cyber Security Operations Group (CSOG), PLDT and subsidiary Smart Communications have been identifying and blocking OSEC websites when informed by the PNP and NBI.

The two telcos have also provided connectivity and technical assistance to allow the quick reporting of OSEC cases through text hotline 7444-64 set up by the PNP Women and Children Protection Center and the International Justice Mission.

In a meeting with the DOJ in March, the PCTO proposed that the government consider the use of a technology solution developed by Microsoft to help its anti-OSEC campaign.

Follow-up meetings that were to include Microsoft and other stakeholders had been stalled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Amend law

In its position paper, the PCTO also called on the DOJ to push for the amendment of what they saw as conflicting provisions of RA 9775.

The group cited a provision of Section 9 of RA 9775, which requires ISPs to monitor content passing through their servers, and to report to authorities any internet address which may contain any form of OSEC.

Another provision in the same section, however, states that “nothing in this section may be construed to require an ISP to engage in the monitoring of any user, subscriber or customer, of the content of any communication of such person.”  PCTO said this prevents ISPs from fully performing their duties under the law.

“We urge the [DOJ] to consider amending RA 9775 to rectify the statutory conflicts identified above, taking into account the paramount objective of protecting the welfare of children who are victims of child pornography and online sexual abuse,” PCTO said.

The group also cited another law – Republic Act No. 10173 or the Data Privacy Act of 2012, which imposes strict privacy responsibilities on entities that collect or process personal information of customers. They said this also contradicts the ISP's duties under RA 9775.

In May, the DOJ urged ISPs to comply with their obligation under the law after OSEC cases spiked by 264.63% during the 3-month lockdown imposed by the government in Metro Manila and other parts of the country to contain the pandemic. 

DOJ data showed that from March 1 to May 24, 2020, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) received  279,166 reported incidents of OSEC compared to 76,651 in the same period in 2019. –