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Jacques Barrot

Vice-President of the European Commission

"An indecent profit, a horrific crime", Preparing a European response to combat the commercial distribution of child abuse images

Keynote speech by Mr Jacques Barrot
3 March 2009, London


Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me. I am very pleased to be in London at this important event.

Today, there are approximately 3000[1] commercial child-exploitation and abuse web sites, with an estimated three hundred sites operating on the internet at any one time.

Sites containing images of child sex abuse have quadrupled between 2003 and 2007.

These are unacceptable facts, which I will not take for granted. This is not only 'indecent profit' as your title for the conference underlines, but horrific crimes against the most vulnerable people - children.

As EU Commissioner responsible for Freedom, Justice and Security, I remain committed to tackling this issue.

1. Technology and organised crime – a reality today:

The internet and applications from new technologies have provided organised crime with new tools. New technologies also make it easy for networks to operate regardless of borders and geography. They also pose new challenges to law enforcement agencies.

Today, international trade and national security architectures are dependent on computer systems. These systems are becoming more interlinked and open to cyber threats.

We live in a society that is becoming more dependent on electronic networks. This generates serious risks for the individual, business and government.

Images of child sex abuse in cyberspace:

The increase of child pornography material is a serious reality.

Child pornography networks on the internet have been identified recently in a number of European countries and have resulted in many arrests. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Around one hundred countries are involved in the distribution of images of child sex abuse! This is a growing phenomenon in Europe and throughout the world.

As you know, child pornography is a particularly horrific form of violence against children. It must be stressed that behind every image is a child who is the victim of such terrible atrocities.

We need to crack down on images of child sex abuse but, above all, protect children. One case is simply too many.

The rapid growth of the internet has opened up a big criminal market for images of child sex abuse. It is rare for these criminals to be paedophiles themselves. They sell images produced by paedophiles with the simple objective of making a profit.

2. Combating child pornography in Cyberspace – the European Union's action:

As we know, there are thousands of child pornography internet sites and the numbers are still growing.

Updating the Council Framework Decision against child pornography

That is why I am preparing a proposal to update and strengthen European legislation in the fight against child pornography at the end of this month – specifically the Council Framework Decision on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children (2004/68/JHA).

I will make sure this legislation provides the highest international standard for the protection of children.

I will introduce specific measures

  • to make it illegal to access to child pornography sites throughout the Union,
  • to make access to such sites more difficult or even impossible,
  • to criminalise new forms of sexual abuse and exploitation facilitated by the use of information systems,
  • and reinforce protection to victims.

The Commission is exploring the possibility of promoting measures to facilitate on-line investigations by the police.

But we cannot fight child pornography only with legislative and police measures.

We must also involve the private sector, which controls a large part of the computer infrastructure.

Many private operators have introduced programmes to combat images of child sex abuse in their computer architecture.

It is clear that the majority of private operators and public authorities have a common objective: to ensure that this illegal content disappears from computer networks.

Dialogue with private sector

That is why I am here today, and why the Commission has increased its dialogue with the private sector.

The Commission has worked in close cooperation with the Council of Europe and a group of ad hoc experts from the public and private sectors to produce practical recommendations to ensure effective cooperation between the police authorities and the private sector at operational level.

Financial coalition

It gives me great pleasure today to announce the creation of the EU Financial Coalition against child sexual abuse on the internet. The Coalition's activities will be presented in more detail today and tomorrow.

The informal public-private sector group was set up by the Commission. The aim is to facilitate closer cooperation between police authorities, financial operators, internet service providers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other stakeholders in the fight against images of child sex abuse on the net.

This has been successful. Discussions have led to the development of a common strategy, and a joint work programme, between the police authorities in a number of Member States, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Missing Children Europe, and private companies such as Visa, MasterCard, eBay, PayPal and Microsoft.

The strategy provides for measures:

  • to identify and protect victims,
  • to locate and arrest criminals (paedophiles as well as those who gain economically from selling images) and, above all,
  • to confiscate the profits from these criminal activities.
  • Finally, buying images of child sex abuse by credit card or other electronic payment systems will be prevented.

I am also pleased to announce the Commission's decision to contribute to the Coalition's work by providing financing of up to €427 000 from the Commission Programme "Prevention of and Fight against Crime".

I, along with my services in the Commission, will continue to provide full political support for this important work.

We need to broaden the Coalition to other Member States and relevant organisations and companies. I therefore call on all Member States to join in the Coalition's efforts!

Europe's pro-active approach is not limited to setting up the Coalition or revising the legislative framework. These proposals supplement other practical projects in the fight against child pornography.

I am thinking specifically of the creation of the European alert platform for reporting offences noted on the internet, approved by the Council last October. The Commission has given €300 000 to implement this. As I speak, this platform is being developed within Europol.


Yes, the internet and its related technologies can provide criminals with new tools, but we are not powerless to act!

The drive for progress also gives public authorities and the private sector new opportunities.

Some innovative ideas are being studied. With the support of internet service providers, we might be able to prevent the distribution of images of child sex abuse by withdrawing internet access from the IP addresses involved. By doing this, we would stop the supply of images of child sex abuse to the web.

This is just one of many ideas.

You can be sure of my determination to see our work continue in a constructive and pragmatic way. I know that success depends on practical initiatives involving public and private stakeholders.

Thank you all for your work and involvement in this area.

[1] Statistics from the Watch Foundation 2007

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