Tools for Law Enforcement and Prosecution

Law enforcement must protect children from online exploitation while complying with human rights standards.

The International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) provides guidelines on how to achieve this balance.

Unfortunately, few agencies instruct their officers on ICCPR guidelines, leading to poor human rights training.

This article explores ICCPR standards and how countries might adopt them when dealing with online child exploitation.

How to Balance Online Freedom and Safety

A human rights-focused internet should focus on preserving three main areas:

User’s privacy: Users must be able to send private messages without fearing companies or agencies will arbitrarily read them.

User’s security: Users must have reasonable protection from bad actors.

This protection can take the form of website and government reporting mechanisms, image tracking software, and strong user agreements.

User’s freedom of expression: Users must have clear restrictions on their ability to speak freely on any platform.

Authority figures who modify these restrictions without informing users engage in suppression.

Sometimes, these aspects contradict each other, as with encrypted messaging.

Each country must decide how to implement this trifecta, weighing each according to its population’s beliefs.

ICCPR recognizes that differences will naturally arise from varying national values.

Law enforcement primarily focuses on security, so officers rarely need prompting to target this aspect.

Effectively using this drive must include balancing freedom of expression and privacy, critical elements of a free society. 

How ICCPR Operates

ICCPR guidelines explore how nations can limit online user’s expression and privacy while making gains in security.

Many regions and nations have adopted these acceptable limitations as guiding principles.

Any ICCPR-compliant restriction must satisfy the following test:

Reasonable: Is the restriction specifically worded to address a legitimate objective? Is it necessary to protect public and individual rights?

Legitimate: Is its primary intention to protect public and individual rights?

Legal: Is the restriction in accordance with the nation’s legal code? Is it unambiguous? 


ICCPR demands proportionality, meaning the security gains must outweigh the losses to expression and privacy.

This principle extends beyond the legislative bodies creating the law to administrative and judicial bodies applying it.

Law enforcement is forbidden from infringing on an individual's privacy and expression rights unless there is a similar gain in security.

Courts have used the proportionality test to weigh questions regarding CSAM and online exploitation.

An example where ICCPR standards might allow significant law enforcement encroachment on privacy is a CSAM creation and distribution ring.

Any time law enforcement has a high chance of protecting children with a further investigation, they have a responsibility to consider proportional privacy and expression intrusions.

Where Children Fit In

Society’s protective instinct toward children pushes it to demand greater security and privacy for minors.

For example, many countries give children more robust legal options to remove online photos they want private.

This ability primarily focuses on preserving minor privacy but does not come at the expense of security.

Potentially, removing these photos might boost a child’s security by making them less of a target for online exploitation.

Law enforcement who pursue online child sexual exploitation offenders often find it easy to satisfy legitimacy and reasonableness requirements.

Officers must retain privacy and expression consciousness for underage victims and potential perpetrators.

Collection of evidence should adhere to legal and proportional standards; an especially important point online where agencies can monitor vast quantities of private information.

Article 24, 1 of ICCPR says the following: “Every child shall have, without any discrimination as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, national or social origin, property or birth, the right to such measures of protection as are required by his status as a minor, on the part of his family, society and the State.” [1]

This article reinforces a consistent ICCPR theme, non-discrimination.

All children must receive the same protections from online exploitation, a critical stipulation since lower-income minors are at higher risk of abuse.

Potential Improvements

Online child exploitation is a sensitive human rights area due to children's vulnerable status and the vast quantity of private information on the Internet.

As such, officers who investigate these crimes must have a firm grasp of ICCPR.

Creating specialized units makes distributing this information more practical and enables focus on obtaining internet search warrants, coordinating with national and international agencies, and adapting to constant online criminal advancements.

What is Human Trafficking Front Doing?

Human Trafficking Front advocates for unified global human rights standards like the ICCPR.

These rules help bind nations to ethical behavior that creates a safer environment for minors around the world.

Our specialized police training teaches officers ICCPR protocols and tests their ability to apply them.

If you want to support this crucial education, donate today.

Key Takeaways

1. Privacy, security, and expression are core human rights’ concerns.

2. ICCPR guidelines focus on reasonableness, security, and legality.

3. Infringements on ICCPR rights must come with proportional gain.

4. Child protectiveness enables potentially unacceptable degrees of online privacy violations.

5. Specialized agencies will better understand ICCPR and online child exploitation.

Act Now. For more tools and information, check out our Resources page.  

Additional Details

This best practices prevention guide and publication is part of the Human Trafficking Front's program: Putting an End to the Online Sexual Exploitation of Children: Preventing Victimization and Strengthening Child Protection Systems.

Recommended Citation

Human Trafficking Front. (2023, December 28). Tools for Law Enforcement and Prosecution.


[1] United Nations. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Human Trafficking Front

Dr. Beatriz Susana Uitts is a human rights specialist, Internet child safety advocate, and founder of Human Trafficking Front, a research and advocacy organization for the prevention of human trafficking. Dr. Uitts holds a J.S.D. and LL.M. in Intercultural Human Rights from St. Thomas University College of Law in Miami Gardens, FL, and is the author of the book Sex Trafficking of Children Online: Modern Slavery in Cyberspace regarding the growing problem of online child sexual exploitation. In this book, she proposes solutions to prevent its spread and promote a safer Internet for children and adolescents worldwide.