Wednesday 11 December 2019

'Tsunami' of online child grooming cases on way, expert warns

Cyber security expert Dr Mary Aiken has warned that there is a wave of grim cases on the horizon. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS
Cyber security expert Dr Mary Aiken has warned that there is a wave of grim cases on the horizon. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS
Ryan Nugent

Ryan Nugent

A "tsunami" of online child grooming cases are coming down the line, according to an Interpol academic adviser.

Cyber security expert Dr Mary Aiken criticised Government plans for the digital age of consent to be 13 and said it should stick to the EU age of 16 when it is introduced in May.

Dr Aiken said children were not only being groomed by paedophiles with a "sexual deviant interest in the child" but also by "sextortionists".

"We're seeing a whole new cohort emerge that doesn't have a sexual deviant interest in the child, they have an economic interest in the child," Dr Aiken said.

"They will groom the child to get them to produce an explicit image. They may masquerade as a 14-year-old boy pretending to talk to the victim who is a 13-year-old girl, and they may try to get the 13-year-old girl to give the 14-year-old boy an image.

"When they get that image, they then use that image to blackmail the child to receive more images and more explicit content and explicit video.

"That content has a value on the darknet forums within the deep web where these images are traded."

Dr Aiken added there had been cases of children threatening suicide as a result of cyber criminals targeting and extorting these images.

She said there had already been one such case of this extortion taking place in Ireland. Children as young as seven are being targeted.

Dr Aiken said that the current number of grooming cases were the "tip of the iceberg" and that there was no benefit for Ireland to have the age of digital consent so young.

"In the current climate, with the cases that we had going through the court recently and the tsunami of cases that will come down the line because of the growing body of statistics that are pointing in a very dark direction, then how can we possibly not be legislating in a protective way?" she asked.

The deputy president of the European Artificial Intelligence Association, Professor Barry O'Sullivan, said having the age of consent at 16 would mean parents would have to allow their child to sign up to social media sites but would not mean children could not access the internet.


"The requirements will be that valid consent is obtained for gathering and profiling people on the basis of their personal data, so the company that does that gathering and profiling has to establish two things," he said. "Firstly, the person they are dealing with is over the age of consent and the age they're declaring is a valid age and if that person is under the age of consent that they have a form of consent from an adult who is actually the right adult."

Mr O'Sullivan suggested one way of ensuring this.

"When a phone is purchased, it's declared what the age of the person using that phone is going to be, and that phone then is associated with that age.

"So from the point of view of consent online, if you happen to be 12 then that phone could be linked to my phone as your parent and I say 'yeah, that's OK, here's consent'," he said.

Irish Independent

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