Ottawa details $22-million plan to combat online child exploitation

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says internet companies must do better

Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, makes an announcement regarding the protection of children from online sexual exploitation during a news conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Tuesday, Aug 6, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, makes an announcement regarding the protection of children from online sexual exploitation during a news conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Tuesday, Aug 6, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

Internet giants must get better, faster and more open about fighting child abuse online, or else governments could make them pay for its harmful aftermath, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Tuesday.

“If human harm is done, if a child is terrorized for the rest of their life because of what happened to them on the internet, if there are other damages and costs, then maybe the platform that made that possible should bear the financial consequences,” Goodale said Tuesday in Ottawa.

The threat came as Goodale unveiled the details of an expanded national strategy aimed at combating the exploitation of children online, to which the Liberal government committed about $22 million over three years.

That includes about $2.1 million aimed at engaging with online companies to make sure their platforms develop the technical ability to recognize and remove child pornography and related content as quickly as possible, or even prevent it from being posted in the first place.

Other goals include having larger companies help smaller firms who want to tackle the problem but may not have enough money or expertise to do it, as well as increasing transparency about the algorithms companies use to attract users.

“The public has a right to know how their information is being used, shared and potentially abused, so the algorithms need to be as transparent as possible so that the public knows what’s happening with … their own information, or the information that they’re exposed to,” Goodale said.

The announcement followed a meeting last month between Goodale and his counterparts from the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, collectively known as the Five Eyes intelligence group.

Major internet companies, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft, were also at the meeting and agreed to a set of rules the governments proposed to remove child pornography from the internet more quickly.

A spokesman for Goodale confirmed it was made clear to companies at the meeting that the governments were willing to legislate consequences for not going far enough.

Spokespeople for Facebook, Google and Microsoft were not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

RELATED: B.C. woman jailed for child pornography after sharing photos of grandchildren online

“This is a race where the course is always getting longer and more complicated and advancing into brand new areas that hadn’t been anticipated five years ago or a year ago or even a week ago,” Goodale said.

He said efforts to combat child exploitation online will always be a work in progress for governments, including constant reminders to the tech giants to not slow their efforts.

“Dealing with these horrible threats to children and the abuse of children is something where we can never relax, because technology will never relax,” Goodale said.

The majority of the money, first unveiled in March’s federal budget, is going to provincial and municipal police forces.

Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press

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