Children face blackmail after sending explicit 'selfies'
There is a growing number of cases where children send explicit 'selfies' which can then be used to trap them by third parties, a high ranking Garda has warned.
Assistant Commissioner John O'Driscoll told an Oireachtas committee that children are also at increasing risk of being exposed to pornography, violence and exploitation because of the ease with which they can access the internet through wifi.
Mr O'Driscoll, who is attached to the Special Crime Operations unit, said children are increasingly engaging in the sharing of selfies where they send "nude and/or sexually explicit personal photographs of each" to a chat group over WhatsApp or Instagram. Facebook and Snapchat were also cited as problematic social media platforms.
"While this scenario has given rise to a form of bullying, there is an added danger when images are circulated outside the confines of friends or otherwise become available to third parties, who may then use them as a trap to engage with a child or set up 'fake profiles', using the images as bait," Mr O'Driscoll said.
Mr O'Driscoll also said child sexual exploitation "is a constantly evolving phenomenon" that is being shaped by developments in technology, mobile connectivity and growing internet coverage.
"The issues surrounding unrestricted access to wi-fi are well publicised.
"Controls which existed at an earlier time in circumstances where children accessed the internet at home or elsewhere under some form of supervision, have been eroded by the prevalence of internet cafes and mobile technology.
"It is now possible that a very young child can use a mobile phone to access the internet over available public wi-fi networks and can search for, or come upon, pornographic or violent material with little or no parental control."
Labour TD Sean Sherlock, who is a member of the committee reviewing the impact of cybercrime on children, told the Irish Independent that parents need to educate themselves on the danger of free access to wifi in public spaces. "This is as fundamental as teaching your child the safe cross code.
"Parents can control what happens in the home environment but it's a big bad world within the public realm," he said. According to gardaí, responsibility for personal online security and protection rests with the user.
"However, as users get younger and are not as likely to be alert to cybercrime, especially in circumstances where the age of digital consent is to be lowered to 13 years, personal responsibility must also be supported by parents, teachers and responsible entities including State agencies such as the Garda Síochána," Mr O'Driscoll said.
He warned the development of pay-as-you-go streaming solutions is another new issues facing his officers. These provide a "high degree of anonymity to the viewer and are furthering the trend in commercial live-streaming of child sexual abuse".
Mr O'Driscoll said An Garda Síochána have developed new strategies to meet "the ever increasing challenges of cyber security and cyber crime". There are plans to expand Garda capabilities, through training with academic partners, increased investment in technology and people, and regionalisation of the computer crime investigations, which for many years was located within the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau. The Garda Síochána will establish a new National Cyber Security Desk at Crime and Security.