President, Allen Global Consulting LLC
Ernie Allen is a global expert on public-private partnerships; the digital economy; the Dark Web; and child protection including child abduction, sexual exploitation and human trafficking. He frequently speaks to global audiences and advises governments, law enforcement, technology companies and non profit organizations. In 2014 he was appointed by UK Prime Minister David Cameron to chair a global effort to combat online child abuse. Today, he continues to chair an expanded WePROTECT Global Alliance of 98 countries, 43 technology companies and others. He was an organizer of the Vatican's 2017 World Congress where Pope Francis spoke about child victimization. And he helped organize the 2018 lnterfaith Alliance Forum hosted by the United Arab Emirates to create a global campaign to protect children. Previously, he headed the National and International Centers for Missing & Exploited Children. He created a missing children's hotline; the CyberTipline to report sexual exploitation; and brought forensic services to law enforcement. He spearheaded new global policies on virtual currencies and the "Dark Web;" and created new technologies to address child victimization. He was called "one of America's foremost social entrepreneurs" by President George W. Bush; named "Executive of the Year" by Non-Profit Times; and named one of the "Most Influential People in Security" by Security Magazine.
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ln July 2013 then-UK Prime Minister David Cameron said, "Today I am going to territory that can be hard for our society to confront. It is frankly difficult for talk about, but I believe we need to address as a matter of urgency. I want to talk about the internet, the impact it's having on the innocence of our children, and how online pornography is corroding childhood,".
One researcher called the easy access of children to extreme internet pornography, “the single largest unregulated social experiment in history”. We are paying a severe price as a society for that experiment.
What can we do? In 2017 the UK Parliament passed a law requiring an approved system of age verification ensuring that those under age l8 are not able to gain access. Other countries are considering a similar approach, including Canada. The Canadian Parliament currently has an age verification bill before it, introduced by Senator Julie Miville-Dechene of Quebec.
When implemented, the UK system will utilize the latest technology and be based on trusted third-party validation, protecting the privacy of users. If sites fail to comply, they will be fined, or denied access to ancillary service providers (credit cards, etc.), or ultimately the regulator may direct ISPs to block access to the site.
Age verification will not deny access by any adult to any legal content. It is not about content, it is about child protection. It is time that we address this reality, a problem that is truly corroding childhood.
In 2019 the New York Times wrote. "Twenty years ago, online images were a problem; 10 years ago, an epidemic. Now, the crisis is at a breaking point.”
We often hear that this crisis is a result of unintended consequences, the misuse of technology that is overwhelmingly positive for humanity. In my view, we must begin to anticipate such consequences and fix them in advance, not just react to them after the fact.
In 1984 we launched the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and in 1985 created the first US child pornography tiptine. Law enforcement responded aggressively and by the late 1980s the content had all but disappeared.
But then along came the internet, and the problem exploded. Those with sexual interest in children suddenly discovered they were not isolated, aberrant or alone. There were people just like them all over the world. They were part of a global community.
In the early 2000s the US Defense Department created a technology to enable people to use the internet anonymously. The intent was noble, protecting political dissidents and journalists from retaliation by repressive regimes.
But apparently no one contemplated that this technology might be used by others besides dissidents and journalists. The result was the anonymous Dark Web, today a venue for drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, human trafficking, assassins for hire, economic crime, and of course, child sexual exploitation.
In 2009 thanks to Microsoft and Dr. Hany Farid, we launched PhotoDNA to enable companies to match the unique digital fingerprints of the "worst of the worst" digital images, so they could be identified and removed from servers and reported to authorities. Yet, today those technologies are at risk of becoming a casualty of the quest for total privacy.
We must anticipate the unintended consequences and address them in advance, not just after the fact.
Three Objectives or Takeaway ldeas:
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