Tech Firms May Be Debanked Over Failure to Tackle Online Child Sexual Abuse Materials

The proposal was part of a U.N. initiative to have financial institutions play a key role in incentivising businesses to tackle child sexual abuse.
Tech Firms May Be Debanked Over Failure to Tackle Online Child Sexual Abuse Materials
The icons of mobile apps are seen on the screen of a smart phone in New Delhi, India, on May 26, 2021. (Sajjad Hussain/AFP via Getty Images)
Lily Zhou

Tech firms may be debanked if they fail to deal with child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on their platforms, according to a proposal being discussed by the financial sector.

The proposal was developed as part of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)'s initiative to have financial institutions play a key role in incentivising businesses to tackle online CSAM.

UK Finance, which represents more than 300 banks and financial service firms, confirmed that it's discussing the proposal with its members.

The Telegraph said it understood a number of major banks have already backed the scheme.

The proposal was drawn up by Jonathan Peddie, partner at law firm Baker McKenzie and chair of the firm's Financial Institutions Global Industry Group, ahead of a UNODC conference in June.

In a letter to CEOs of major banks shared on LinkedIn, Mr. Peddie said banks can help deal with the distributing of CSAM by pledging their intolerance of such material.

Banks were invited to use existing rules, making the identification, control, and removal of CSAM a due diligence issue, and withdrawing service to firms that failed to comply upon verified requests, the letter said.

Mr. Peddie said the proposed measure is "no different" to existing anti-money laundering or bribery rules, which has been "universally accepted."

He also proposed creating a new working group targeting CSAM within the Joint Money Laundering Intelligence Taskforce (JMLIT), an intelligence and resource sharing partnership in operation since 2015 that involves over 40 financial institutions, the Financial Conduct Authority, five law enforcement agencies, and Cifas, which is a service in which financial service providers use to check risks of fraud.

If a customer is flagged on the Cifas database, the marker is likely to lead to the individual or organisation being rejected from getting bank accounts, loans, or insurance for as long as six years, and have their credit ratings damaged further by the rejections.

Banks Mulling the 'New and Interesting' Idea

In an email to the Epoch Times, UK Finance confirmed its members are looking at the "new and interesting" idea.

"The banking industry plays a key role in supporting law enforcement through things like filing Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) and involvement in public-private intelligence sharing," a spokesperson said.

"While these are focused on tackling money laundering and other forms of economic crime, the NCA state that SARs intelligence has enabled them to tackle many other serious crimes," the statement reads.

"Jonathan Peddie’s initiative, which builds on the success of existing intelligence sharing initiatives, is a new and interesting proposal which we will discuss further with our members."

The National Crime Agency (NCA), which hosts the National Economic Crime Centre and its JMLIT, said it's a priority to tackle child sexual abuse "in all its forms."

"Together with UK policing, we are arresting over 800 people and safeguarding around 1,200 children every month," a spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an email.

“It’s a threat that is increasing in both complexity and scale, so every part of the private and public sector must also play its part in combatting it.

The spokesperson said the NCA works "with a range of partners in these spaces, including the financial sector, to support them in taking proactive action against child abuse and ensure we are providing the best possible collaborative response.”

A government spokeswoman said Whitehall supports "different sectors taking proactive steps to tackle child sexual abuse."

She also touted the UK's support for UNODC agenda in a statement to The Telegraph.

"This includes a call to action to proactively remove and combat child sexual exploitation and abuse material online, supported by supported by 75 U.N. Member States in June, in recognition that there is urgent need for action by governments, internet service providers, and access providers to each play their part in tackling this horrific crime,” the statement reads.

In June, the government said the U.N. initiative was informed by two days of expert discussions, during with "the present financial institutions accepted that they can play a central role to encourage businesses, to which they provide banking facilities, to identify child sex abuse material, to delete it and prevent it from being reuploaded."

The Epoch Times has reached out to Meta, Google, Apple, X, and TikTok to ask what impact the proposed measure may have on there public platforms and private messaging services.