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Philippine government cracksdown on online child pornography

Publication Date : 19-01-2014


The Philippine government on Saturday swore to crack down on online child abuse in the Philippines, now one of the top 10 countries in the world where child cybersex is rampant.

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the Aquino administration would intensify its campaign against cyberpornography, including pouncing on the local protectors of the child cybersex industry.

Speaking on state-run radio two days after Britain announced a global police operation against child cybersex that included arrests in the Philippines, Lacierda said that while the government’s tourism campaign pictured the country as a place where tourists could have “more fun,” its aim was to promote the country as a wholesome destination.

“We don’t want to be identified as a haven [for pedophiles],” Lacierda said.

He said the Philippine National Police had been watching the child cybersex industry for some time and government had designated Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to lead a campaign to dismantle the trade.

De Lima heads the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (Iacat), but she said on Friday that the group was not concerned with child abuse alone but also with other forms of human trafficking as well as labor trafficking.

Congress passed an anticybercrime law in September 2012 meant to stamp out cybercrimes, including fraud, identity theft, spamming and child pornography.

But the Supreme Court blocked the statute before it could take effect amid a legal challenge that it has yet to rule on.

Opponents objected to provisions that would authorise heavy prison terms for online libel, and give the state the power to shut down websites and monitor online activities.

De Lima said the freeze was hindering the Department of Justice’s fight against cybercrime. Lacierda said, however, that the case was up for resolution.

Lacierda said the law’s provisions were “a ticklish issue,” but expressed hope that telecommunication companies and officials could reach agreement on how to proceed.

Rapid growth

The Philippines has rapidly become a key hub of the billion-dollar global child cybersex industry, with operators aided by widespread poverty and legal loopholes that allow them to remain anonymous, according to Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa, chief of the anticybercrime unit of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Paying subscribers anywhere in the world can log in to sites operated from Manila and across the archipelago that stream the abuse of Filipino children on the Internet, Sosa tol a news conference Friday.

“We are the origin, the source,” Sosa said, adding the industry spread rapidly across the country last year.

Police in Britain, Australia and the Philippines announced on Thursday that they had jointly dismantled a pedophile ring that streamed live sexual abuse of Filipino children as young as 6 over the Internet. In some cases, the victims’ parents were involved.

Among top 10

Fifteen victims aged between 6 and 15 have been rescued in the joint Operation Endeavor in 12 countries, Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said on Thursday, adding that 29 people had been arrested, including 11 in the Philippines.

Three other ongoing investigations have identified 733 suspects, the NCA said.

Sosa said the Philippines was a “top 10” purveyor of what he described as a global “cottage industry [worth] billions of dollars.”

The victims are mostly younger than 18, he said, recounting how he took part in some police raids in  Angeles City, Pampanga province, where boys and girls aged between 10 and 14 performed “lewd acts” in front of cameras.

Some of the suspects arrested were Americans or Europeans, with Filipino “cohorts,” he said.

In Manila, he said the streaming was done inside hotel rooms. It is also done in 31 of the Philippines’ 81 provinces, with Angeles, Cebu City and Cagayan de Oro City in Misamis Oriental province being the other main sites.

Sosa said some of the streaming was done inside shanties in the sprawling slums of the country where one in four people live on less than 50 pesos (US$3.77) a day, according to government data.

“The parents themselves facilitate the children’s participation,” Sosa said, adding their earnings help support the families.

Video streaming earned them at least $100 an hour, and photo sessions were worth up to $66, he added.

Sosa said most people who paid to view the activity were from the United States and Europe.

“There is no interest in child pornography in our culture. So it is mostly production,” he said.

Produced in the Philippines

Tens of thousands of child cybersex images were likely to have been transmitted from all over the Philippines in 2012 alone, Senior Inspector Levy Lozada, chief of the PNP Anticybercrime Group Digital Forensic Laboratory, told the Inquirer on Saturday.

An NCA online map obtained by the Inquirer showed pins all over the Philippines, indicating the places from where images of child abuse had been transmitted.

Lozada said every pin indicated an Internet protocol (IP) address through which pornographic materials were sent to Western countries.

Part of Operation Endeavor, the map showed four hot spots: Angeles City, Cebu City, Cagayan de Oro City and Metro Manila.

In Manila, Lozada said an IP address had been found to have transmitted 640 copies of lewd videos and photos of children.

Lozada said the NCA collected the data through the transmittals received by subscribers in Britain whom the authorities had been monitoring.

“The production (of the pornographic materials) takes place in the Philippines,” Lozada said.

The materials are then sent to clients overseas, mostly in the United States and Britain.

“We will be updating our data in the first quarter of this year,” Lozada said. “We’ll have an exchange of data with [the NCA’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection command].”

Difficult to trace

In 2012, the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group investigated child cybersex in 18 provinces in Luzon, six in the Visayas and seven in Mindanao.

Lozada said it was difficult to trace the cyberporn streamers because of the Internet’s global reach and the “dynamic nature” of the business.

“You use one IP address, which you could then assign to others,” he said.

He said digital forensics focused on the extraction of data or the recovery of digital information from computers or USBs.

Tracing the owners of the IP addresses lies mainly with the telecommunication companies, he said.

“This is why we really need the telcos’ cooperation. When we find out the IP address used to send the pornographic material, then it is the telcos that can trace the specific user,” Lozada said.

That law is needed

Sosa explained on Friday that the crime had spread because of the confidentiality observed by the telcos, but the anticybercrime law would have dealt with that difficulty.

“Under that law, telcos are required to retain their data or log files within a period of six months. Since there is a temporary restraining order, there is no legal basis for them to comply,” Sosa said.

Ronald Aguto, cybercrime division chief of the justice department’s National Bureau of Investigation, said on Friday that Filipino law enforcers were making do with other laws to go after offenders, including one against child pornography.

But these were not enough, he said.

“In these matters, time is of the essence. We need to swiftly get the data from Internet providers,” he said in an interview over dzBB radio.

On Saturday, Gabriela party-list Representative Luz Ilagan said Congress needed to enact new measures to protect children and women from sexual exploitation.

Ilagan urged the House committees on the welfare of children and women and gender equality to call hearings on pedophilia and child pornography to see what new laws could be enacted to fight child cybersex and the sexual exploitation of women.

*With reports from Leila B. Salaverria and AFP


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