The Centre to End Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) is threatening legal action against the Information Commissioner for failing in its duty to protect children from data misuse by online pornography sites, resulting in them viewing increasingly hardcore and harmful material.

The UK-based charity’s lawyers have written to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) today to express its concerns about the ICO’s ongoing failure to protect children from harm from pornographic websites which are processing the personal data of children contrary to data protection law. Specifically, that the ICO has failed to fulfil its regulatory duties and investigate porn sites’ unlawful processing of children’s personal information, in spite of warnings from leading child safety experts.

The widespread damage caused to children accessing pornography is well documented. It has been proven to shape their attitudes towards sex, normalise trends such as strangulation, breed harmful attitudes and behaviours towards women and girls and impact mental health and wellbeing by increasing anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.

The case centres on the ICO’s failure to act in spite of their own admission of “valid and significant concerns” that pornographic websites may be unlawfully processing the personal data of children. Such data misuse would enable pornographic websites to target children with advertising for more hardcore content, designed to keep them on the sites for longer and returning more often.

CEASE is extremely concerned about the regulation of online pornography given the scale of the harms wreaked by an industry whose explosive growth over the past 20 years has been virtually free of all scrutiny, accountability and regulation.

Vanessa Morse, CEO of CEASE said:

“Porn websites have avoided scrutiny for far too long. 1.4 m children access porn online each month, some as young as seven years old and many parents and guardians have no idea of the scale of this problem.

“We believe that porn sites use personal data to target advertising and other pornographic content to their users regardless of whether they are an adult or a child.

“The ICO’s failings have allowed the porn industry to unlawfully use childrens’ data in order to keep them visiting sites and viewing hardcore, damaging pornography.

“We can see that self-regulation of this industry is not working and it’s crucial that the online pornography industry is made accountable for its actions.

“As we and our children spend increasing amounts of time in the digital world, something that the national lockdowns of the past year have exacerbated, the risks and harms associated with this practice will only increase.”

Paul Conrathe of Sinclairs Law, is the lead Solicitor in this case and added:

“The obtaining and processing of childrens’ data by these pornographic websites falls under the remit of the ICO. Thus far, the ICO has failed to take regulatory action against these sites and address our client’s concerns about the exposure of children to harm and distress through viewing pornography, including extreme pornography. In short, the ICO is failing to enforce the law when it is their duty to do so.”

The action was triggered after John Carr, Secretary of the UK’s Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety, wrote to the ICO to raise the issue and was met with the response that they would not be taking action against pornographic websites despite their acknowledgement of significant concerns.

John Carr said:

“I was shocked and dismayed by the Information Commissioner’s reply to me in which they refused to act against porn sites which were collecting and processing children’s data on a large scale. If the data protection laws weren’t designed to protect children from that kind of thing I am sure a lot of parents will wonder just what they were designed to do.”

CEASE has launched a CrowdFunder to cover the fees for this legal action. Visit http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/protect-kids-from-porn to donate.

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    Information Commissioner faces legal action for failure to act on pornography harm to children

    by Campaign Collective time to read: 3 min
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