Three years after the government asked internet players to partner with Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to help prevent access to Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) online, only one out of over 150 operational Internet Service Providers have signed up.

IWF had approached large service providers like Airtel, Reliance Jio, Vodafone and Tata Telecommunications back in 2017 to try and get them to sign up. “This is something they all, with the exception of Tata Communications, ignored, and the government failed to enforce,” Susie Hargreaves, Chief Executive, IWF, told BusinessLine .

Also read: ISPs told to spread awareness on parental control to check porn

The IWF is a private not-for-profit entity based in the UK, which offers systems that can filter and block CSAM-hosting websites listed by the interpol.

In 2017, MeitY had mandated all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to sign up with IWF to help prevent circulation of CSAM online. However, most ISPs found the subscription fee high and did not comply.

Tata Communications told BL that the partnership with IWF was still very much active but did not respond to further queries regarding the effectiveness of the partnership. Airtel and Reliance Jio did not respond to queries when contacted.

“These are very large companies, generating huge profits which have a responsibility to protect their customers by ensuring that their networks are kept clean of child sexual abuse material,” said Susie.

Rajesh Chharia, President, Internet Service Providers Association of India, said it approached the government to suggest a free of cost portal from Canada, ‘Arachnid’, which provides similar services as IWF.

The government is taking a lot of taking time considering this whereas it was in a hurry to implement IWF, he said.

“We are doing the follow-up this year and we hope that the government will very soon take a call on this,” he said. Rather than depending on foreign organisations, India should focus on developing a national portal to report CSAM, he added.

IWF’s current graph in India features launching India’s first CSAM hotline, along with NGO Aarambh. “The Aarambh-IWF hotline continues to function but is limited in scope and does not have the capacity to accept and process the 16.8 million suspected reports that companies sent across to NCMEC in 2019,” an IWF spokesperson said. India needs a full-fledged hotline system and a lot needs to be put in place in terms of law, policy, regulation, partnerships, resources, etc as well as dedicated implementation of the same, Siddharth Pillai of Aarambh said.

Also read: IWF’s India Portal gets 1000 reports related to child porn

With its massive population India stands right at the top on global online reports of CSAM at 11.7 per cent, followed by Pakistan (6.8 per cent). India Child Protection Fund, in a study along with Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation found that during July 2020, CSAM searches in Tier 1 cities peaked at 5.5 million searches. It also said that CSAM consumption per hour was the highest between 10 am to 4 pm which used to be between 10 pm and 3 am pre-lockdown revealing significant “daytime consumption” during the lockdown. ICPF’s Programs & Partnerships Director, Nivedita, feels that when it comes to stopping CSAM, technology plays a key role in finding, tracking and identifying both victims and perpetrators of the crime. Technology helps collect empirical data to analyse the crimes further, she added.

Speaking about the awareness of CSAM, Siddharth said that it’s ‘sorely lacking’. He asks, “How many of them are even aware they are watching criminal content when they are watching a leaked CSAM featuring a 16-year-old? ”

(The writers is interning with BusinessLine's Mumbai Bureau)