BIG SKY, Montana — Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore co-founded Thorn in 2012, an organization that aims to eradicate global child sex trafficking. Using technology, the organization develops tools to help identify online child exploitation. Thorn makes these tools and resources available to law enforcement, companies and organizations. In 2018, Thorn reported that more than 9,000 law enforcement officers are using its products in 38 different countries.
Identifying Child Exploitation
In 2018, Thorn’s technological tools helped law enforcement to identify more than 10,000 child sex trafficking victims. In this same year, Thorn launched a product called Safer, which aids in the identification and removal of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) from online platforms. More than 44 million pieces of CSAM were reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2018. Kutcher and Thorn are working to eradicate CSAM material and create a safer online environment for children.
The EU Reform in Question
The European Electronic Communications Code aims to limit the powers large tech firms have to obtain access to private digital communication. Supporters of this reform argue that it is a violation of privacy for companies such as Facebook and Google to screen emails and private messages looking for evidence of child pornography or other child sexual abuse material.
Large tech companies such as Microsoft and Facebook Messenger currently have automatic detection tools in place that identify child sexual abuse material and screen for online grooming attempts. This proposed code reform would ban such companies from engaging in this screening on grounds of privacy infringement.
Ashton Kutcher Fights Against EU Reform
Kutcher and other critics argue that these sweeping privacy reforms will put thousands of children at risk and will make the online detection of child sexual abuse much harder. While individuals have a right to privacy, Kutcher claims that those hit hardest by this reform will be children who have no other means of protecting themselves from online abuse.
Kutcher tweeted that the preservation of child abuse detection methods in Europe is an urgent and timely issue. Kutcher urges for the introduction of alternative legislation in order to protect children in Europe from online abuse.
According to the Internet Watch Foundation in 2019, almost 90% of known URLs containing CSAM came from within Europe. EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, proposed an interim law to allow tech companies an exemption from the code in order to continue tracking child sexual abuse online.
The European Commission intends to propose separate legislation to address online child sexual abuse by the second quarter of 2021. Critics are hoping that the temporary law will be approved and put in place until further legal protections are solidified.
Kutcher emphasizes the grave consequences of the privacy reform to the European Electronic Communications Code. The removal of illegal images and the protection of children against online grooming efforts use the same technologies as spam filters many individuals and companies install on their computers. If computers can legally and rightfully be protected from malware, Kutcher argues that these technologies should extend to protect the children living in the EU as well.
The internet is the vastest marketplace for the buying and selling of children. The technological solutions of companies like Thorn aim to detect and prevent online sexual abuse. In order for big tech companies to successfully detect CSAM, privacy exemptions are essential. Overall, by developing Thorn, Ashton Kutcher is aiding in the protection of children globally.
– Tatiana Nelson