Some of Ireland's leading providers of internet services and infrastructure are refusing to fund a government-supported industry initiative aiming to ensure child pornography is reported to the authorities as soon as it appears on the web, a Sunday Tribune investigation has established.
This is despite the findings of the most recent annual report of the service, Hotline.ie, which revealed an increase in the severity of images of child rape reported to it. The report has prompted fears that its staff may be breaking the law if they download any such images reported to them.
The Sunday Tribune has established that among the well-known companies which are not members of the Internet Service Providers' Association of Ireland (ISPAI) – and by extension are not financially supporting its Hotline.ie service – are Digiweb, Magnet, Hosting 365, Smart Telecom and Lastmile.ie
At least one of these – Digiweb – argued in a response to questions from this newspaper that the "appropriate body" to handle such matters was An Garda Síochana.
Another, midlands-based Lastmile.ie, did not respond when contacted by the Sunday Tribune.
Two others – Hosting365 and Servecentric – said the issue of ISPAI membership did not apply to them as they are not ISP's, an approach with which the ISPAI strongly disagrees.
However, Smart Telecom confirmed it intends to join the ISPAI in the next week or so. A spokesman said this decision was taken before the recent Hotline.ie report.
Similarly, Magnet chief executive Mark Kellett said it was willing to consider joining the ISPAI as part of the company's ongoing wider review of the issue of regulation, adding he was "acutely aware" of the issues involved.
Last month, the Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern expressed serious concern at the failure of companies to sign up to the ISPAI and its voluntary code of conduct. He said he would not hesitate to introduce legislation to cover the area should this prove necessary. "Any responsible ISP or hosting company should contribute to the financing of the hotline and join in the development and running of awareness programmes.
"It is not good enough that some in this industry are happy to reap the benefits for themselves of self-regulation by riding on the backs of the ISPAI members who are making a concerted effort to make the internet safer for all," he added.
Paul Durrant, general manager of the ISPAI, told the Sunday Tribune the current approach, whereby members of the public can report suspect internet content to Hotline.ie, had been agreed after high-level discussions between the relevant authorities 10 years ago.
Individuals or staff who try to assess such imagery outside of this agreement would be in breach of the law, he added.
"If there is no hotline there, where are the public going to report to? Their local garda station, who have 101 things to do?" he added.
"The fact of the matter is that all of these companies are part of the Irish internet infrastructure...
"This is the preferred route of the industry, the gardaí and the government, and it is a route that is at risk."