Converge pledges to protect children online in partnership with government, NGOs
The country’s leading fiber broadband provider Converge ICT Solutions Inc. joined the Inter-Agency Council against Child Pornography (IACACP) led by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and a slate of child protection non-government organizations in observance of the global #SaferInternetDay celebration, reiterating its commitment to safeguard its network against perpetrators of online sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
In the “ABCs of ISPs Summit” organized by the IACACP held Tuesday, Converge stressed the important role of internet service providers in the protection of children against these crimes which are increasing at an alarming rate.
“Converge is honored to be here with IACACP, and other staunch advocates and groups against the online abuse of children, an issue that we can all agree is of increasing importance in our rapidly digitizing environment. As an internet service provider, we realize our responsibility in this entire ecosystem to protect and secure children’s rights,” said Benjamin B. Azada, Chief Sustainability Officer of Converge.
“We have been strongly advocating for greater online access for education purposes, but we know there’s a dark side to promoting wider access to technology once this technology lands in the hands of criminals. This kind of risk, which can be classified as a “contact risk from adults / peers” is increasing at an alarming rate,” said Mr. Azada.
In his opening remarks, DSWD Secretary Rolando Bautista noted the rising cases of online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC) in the country, with the Department of Justice noting a staggering increase in reports since the pandemic hit in 2020.
“While the internet promises many benefits and advantages, it may also be a harmful environment for children as it poses threats to their safety. OSAEC continues to be one of the serious global concerns, especially amid the pandemic. According to the Department of Justice Office of Cybercrime, the Philippines recorded a significant increase of 264% of OSAEC cases since the Covid-19 pandemic hit globally,” Secretary Bautista shared.
Issues such as online harassment and cyberbullying are already pervasive, but an even more sinister form of harm is being perpetrated through child pornography. Converge vows continued coordination with government on ensuring its technology is ironclad to block malicious websites and it coordinates with enforcement agencies to help in the prosecution of perpetrators.
“In total, we have invested some P100 million to intensify network security systems, and we’ve adopted industry-leading security systems that go beyond the minimum requirements set by the NTC. We have a coordination mechanism with enforcement agencies such as the NBI and the PNP Cybercrime division for the reporting of all types of illegal content online, including OSAEC,” noted Mr. Azada.
Converge implemented a substantial upgrade on its cyber-defense tools, ramping up from a DNS filtering solution to an HTTPS URL/ Domain filtering system.
DNS filtering entails the user’s computer to go through Converge’s network first before accessing the site. If the URL is blacklisted on the network, access is denied. However, as some tech-savvy individuals are bypassing Converge’s network, they are still able to view the sites hosting imagery of child sexual abuse.
On the HTTPS URL/Domain filtering, when the user tries to access a blocked site, the request is dropped and the user is redirected to a corresponding warning page on the type of abuse.
To recall, in July, Converge partnered with UK-based child abuse watchdog Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to step up the fight against the spread of images and videos of child sex abuse. Key to this partnership is the license to use IWF’s URL list of criminal webpages as a master list to block URLs.
So far, 20,000 websites have been blocked on Converge’s network, effectively curbing the heavy traffic to these illicit sites that has been averaging 1,200 hits per minute.
Converge Together for Safer Internet
According to IACACP and as noted by Mr. Azada, the Philippines is a hotbed for live streamed content of online child abuse; As such, ISPs play a crucial role in identifying OSAEC, for the effective action of law enforcement and prosecutors.
“More than curbing the consumption of OSAEC content, we are making strides to ensure the creation of such content is stopped. Various reports have shown that the Philippines has become a global epicenter of in the livestream sexual abuse of children. And the rate continues to grow through the pandemic. This is why we partnered with Stairway Foundation, a Philippine NGO promoting children’s rights through awareness, community assistance, and networking. Through programs of rights awareness and education, Converge can more actively contribute to child protection in a preventive, not just a palliative way,” added Mr. Azada.
All of these efforts to protect children from online abuse and exploitation fall under the “Converge Together for Safer Internet” campaign, which is aligned with the company’s key sustainability principles – building trust with customers, and empowering communities.
This demonstrates that Converge is going beyond mere compliance and has taken a proactive stance in Child Online Protection, in line with the International Telecommunication Union’s recommended policy actions.