A Rajya Sabha panel has recommended that law enforcement agencies should be permitted to break end-to-end encryption to trace the distributor of child pornography on social media.

The ad hoc committee of the Rajya Sabha formed to look into pornography on social media and its effect on children and society has also recommended that apps that help in monitoring children’s access to pornographic content be made mandatory on all devices sold in India, and such apps or similar solutions be developed and made freely available to internet service providers (ISPs), schools and parents.

The 14-member committee, chaired by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, has made 40 recommendations in all, including changes to the Protection of Children From Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012.

The recommendations assume significance in view of the ongoing battle between the government and WhatsApp over encryption. The government has been looking for a way to trace messages to curb spread of rumours and fake news on the messaging. If these recommendations come into effect, it could set a precedent for other similar requests.

“The committee recommends modifying the IT (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2011 to include the ability to trace the originator or sender of the message shared on end-to-end encryption platforms in cases where CSAM (Child Sexual Abuse Material) that has been shared has come to the attention of law enforcement agencies,” said the report submitted by the panel. The report further adds that internet service providers (ISPs) proactively monitor and take down CSAM.

The committee has suggested broadening the definition of child pornography in POCSO, including a provision on child grooming, or using the Internet to facilitate sexual contact with a child, in the Act.

The report also suggested making amendments to the Information Technology (IT) Act to include punitive measures for those who provide children access to pornography, and for those who access, produce or transmit CSAM.

The report said that IT Act should include a clause to give powers to the “Union Government through its designated authority to block and/or prohibit all websites/intermediaries that carry CSAM”.

The report said that an upgraded and technologically empowered National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) should be designated as the nodal agency to deal with the issue of child pornography, and the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) should record and report cases of child pornography of all kinds annually. “A national helpline should be created where child sexual abuse as well as distribution of child pornographic material can be reported by concerned citizens,” it added.

Other technological suggestions include that the Ministries of Electronics and IT and Home Affairs sign agreements with the industry to develop technological solutions for proactive monitoring of CSAM, partner with blockchain companies to track cryptocurrency transactions used to purchase child pornography online, besides increasing partnerships with financial services companies, like credit card providers, to prevent online payments systems from being used for purchasing child pornography.

The committee met social media and technology firms including Facebook (which owns WhatsApp and Instagram), Twitter, ShareChat, Google, TikTok and others to understand the issues related to spread and curbing of child pornography.

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