I am very pleased to be here today to launch the Annual Report of Hotline.ie for 2014. I would like to express my thanks to the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland for their invitation to carry out this launch. I wish to once again acknowledge the work of Mr. Paul Durrant and his team in Hotline.ie for their excellent work in this most difficult area.

 

I also launched the Annual Report for 2013 and I note that you have been even busier in 2014 with a large increase in the number of reports received and processed. While it is unfortunate that there still remains a need for a service such as Hotline.ie, I am pleased to see that this efficient and timely service continues to carry out its work to the benefit of the people of Ireland.

 

I know that the Irish hotline was a founder member of INHOPE and that it continues to make an important contribution at international level. I see from the Report that Hotline.ie participated in a pilot EU programme to make the tracking of identified images more efficient. I note that this pilot work was carried out in conjunction with Interpol.  Cooperation with law enforcement both nationally and internationally is an important way in which the horror of child abuse material on the internet can be combated. I know that nationally the hotline liaises closely with An Garda Siochána and that the Gardaí greatly value this collaboration.

 

There has been some discussion of the phenomenon of self generated images being produced by minors and then being uploaded – so-called sexting. Young people need to be aware that certain of such images may in fact be illegal. Sexting may also sometimes be associated with so-called sextortion where minors are induced or coerced into sharing images or indeed producing ever more extreme images. It must be made clear to children and young people that “think before you click” is not just a catchphrase but is vital to their welfare.

 

Parents must take a close interest in their children’s online lives and if necessary learn with them so that they can be up to speed when older children want to explore further on their own. Above all it must be remembered that once an image is placed on the internet all control over it is lost to the individual.

 

In order to assist parents the Office for Internet Safety in my Department has a dedicated website www.internetsafety.ie which makes a wide range of information available to parents and teachers. This includes a series of booklets on internet safety. The booklets can also be obtained in hard copy on request to the Office.

 

The Gardaí include the topic of internet safety in their Schools Programme and indeed they make use of materials supplied by the Office for Internet Safety in their work in the schools.

 

The Internet Content Governance Advisory Group looked at the area of content on the internet as well as the current position in relation to online safety particularly for children in Ireland. I very much welcome their comprehensive report which sets out a number of recommendations currently being progressed in consultation with my colleagues Ministers Alex White and James Reilly. At the moment the Law Reform Commission is looking closely at the area of cyber crime affecting personal safety, privacy and reputation including cyber-bullying and I look forward to receiving their report in due course. 

 

In my own Department the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill is currently being drafted. This piece of legislation will update the law in this area and provide, among other matters, for the further protection of children and vulnerable persons against sexual exploitation and abuse and, in particular, protect children from unwarranted and unwanted advances.  There will be, for the first time, provision specifically targeting the use of modern communication technologies as a tool in the sexual exploitation of children.  The new legislation recognises that seemingly innocent contact through social media or messaging apps can be the initial steps in the sexual grooming of a child.  There will also be an offence of using information and communication technology to send sexually explicit material to children.  These offences recognise and target the threats which modern communications technologies can pose to children.  

 

Coming back to the Hotline.ie 2014 Report I note that some of the reports made to the hotline cannot be properly followed through because there is not enough information available. This is a great pity. I would urge members of the public to ensure that they provide as much information as possible to the hotline so that their concerns can be fully addressed. In case there is any apprehension that the reporting persons details will be traced I can assure the public that anonymity is guaranteed. The only interest that Hotline.ie and in turn the Gardaí have is to trace the source of illegal material and to remove it.

 

Finally, it only remains for me to commend this Annual Report and the work of Hotline.ie for another year and to wish you every success in your work in 2015.

 

Thank you.