New UK law will force major tech companies to combat child pornography

The U.K. will introduce a law to force major technology companies to tackle online pornographic abuse of children if they don’t act swiftly to deal with the issue themselves.

In a major speech, Home Secretary Sajid Javid cited the action taken by companies like Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. to tackle online terrorist content and called on them to use the same methods — using algorithms and human reviewers to prevent images from appearing — to block child abuse material on their platforms. He referred to the live-streaming of child abuse and sharing of images among pedophile web groups.

“I am not just asking for change, I am demanding it,” Javid said in London on Monday. “These companies have achieved a lot in a short space of time when pushed on it; I want to see the same level of commitment from these companies on child sexual abuse.”

The National Crime Agency estimates as many as 80,000 people in the U.K. “present some kind of sexual threat” to children online. Children are being groomed into performing sex acts online in as little as 45 minutes, Javid said, with images of children and babies under the age of 10 increasing in volume.

Tech companies are under pressure to combat the proliferation of child abuse images, with European regulators among the strictest of global regulators. In March, the European Commission issued an ultimatum to firms to remove illegal content within an hour, or risk facing new EU-wide laws.

The U.K. — though still under the purview of European laws — has not been as vigorous. Paul Bew, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, has previously called on the government to make tech companies liable for content. But as of December, the U.K. had no plans to fine social media companies if they failed to remove illegal content.

Javid, who said his white paper on the issue would be published shortly, declined to elaborate on what penalties tech companies would face. A white paper is an official U.K. government document outlining proposals on a specific issue.

“How far we legislate will be informed by the action and attitude that industry takes,” he said.

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New UK law will force major tech companies to combat child pornography