Baroness Joanna Shields OBE


Your Excellencies Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton for the opportunity to join you today to participate in the formal opening of the Australian Center to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE).  Whilst these proceedings were delayed due to the COVID 19 pandemic,  the vital work of the centre has continued at warp speed.

And there has never been a more urgent moment in the fight to end child exploitation and abuse online.  With so much of life taking place virtually, abuse and online sexual exploitation of children has exploded. Figures published by the US National Center for Missing & Exploited Children registered a 106% increase in reports of suspected child sexual exploitation online in just the first three months of the pandemic. This is on top of the 70 million cases of child abuse material reported in 2019, which was a nearly 50% increase over 2018 reported cases. What we are experiencing is, in fact, a pandemic within the pandemic.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are at a profound moment, and children’s lives and safety must be our top priority. The establishment of the ACCCE embodies Australia’s enduring commitment to the protection of children from harm, and it serves as a brilliant model for governments around the world to follow.  Australia’s leadership in the fight to eradicate online child abuse and exploitation is longstanding and has ensured that this heinous crime remains at the forefront of the global agenda.

Most recently,  Australia again played a crucial role alongside the other Five Eyes governments in drafting and launching the Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse -- a set of principles that has proven cooperation between tech companies and governments is indeed achievable., which is why I wholeheartedly support the ACCCE’s founding principle of working “in partnership’. This is a crime that recognises no borders, and without a robust global and coordinated response from law enforcement, governments, NGOs and tech companies, we can not eradicate this evil and protect children from harm.

Specifically, governments need to implement regulation to ensure that the companies whose products enable children to connect and share information have safety directly built-in.  And when those safety mechanisms fail, then we must hold the companies who build tech products and profit from them to account.

To that end,  I would like to recognise the tenacity and commitment of Australia’s  eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant. Her leadership and advocacy in ensuring that safety-by-design principles have been effectively implemented have made a tremendous impact on industry accountability and educational awareness.  

Technology is never simply good or evil; it’s how we deploy it. I firmly support multi-stakeholder coordinated action, and I believe that we can do more good together than we can apart. We can solve more problems collaborating than confronting. We can protect more children by sharing knowledge than working independently.

This principle sits at the heart of the WePROTECT Global Alliance, an organisation I founded in 2014 .  Today we have 98 member countries, leading civil society organisations and some of the largest tech companies working as a unified front.  But on one issue at the moment, we are at an impasse.  The international statement on end to end encryption and public safety released on October 11, 2020, by Australia, the UK and representatives from five other countries is of critical and urgent importance. While we recognise that E2E encryption is a fundamental instrument to protect the privacy of all citizens, we must remember that children deserve the right to a safe and happy childhood too. With over 12 million incidents of child sexual abuse material reported by Facebook alone in 2018, the implementation of E2E encryption would mean all of those cries for help go unheard.

I am once again grateful to Australia, the UK and the other signatory governments for drawing attention to this issue and calling on technology companies to make sure that encryption is applied in a way that doesn’t erode the safety of the most vulnerable in our society.

Technology can and must be a force for good.  With global leadership, robust  policies, and collaborative public and private sector action, we can keep our children safe. The opening of the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation is a beacon of hope and a commitment to progress.

Source: LinkedIn