The State refuses to give 41,000 euros to save Point de Contact, a crucial link in the fight against online child crime

2024-03-01 16:59:00

41,000 euros. This is the amount that Point de Contact, one of the most active players in France in the fight against illegal content online, is missing to continue its mission. For 25 years, this small team of six people has been sifting through tens of thousands of content reported by Internet users, categorizing it, and if necessary removing it from the Web and reporting it to the authorities. A painstaking effort to try to “ to clean “, or at least remove problematic content from the web, particularly child-criminal, hateful, and sexist content. But the association did not manage to obtain this amount requested from the State. Its president, Jean-Christophe Le Toquin, therefore announced on February 29 on social networks that he had made an appointment with the court to file for bankruptcy.

« Given the paltry sum we are asking for, it is not a money problem, but a fundamental problem “, he says. However, the need for the work of his organization seems obvious. Point de Contact is the first professional reporter to Pharos, the government platform which allows the removal of illicit content from the web. Jean-Christophe Le Toquin sees the judicial liquidation of his organization as a means of putting an end to the illusion of the government’s commitment to its issues, outside of speeches ” and initiatives that serve no purpose ».

“When a field worker, who works on child criminal content, gender-based and sexual violence and hateful content, needs money, there is no one to help them. »

The story begins a few months ago. When Point de Contact seeks to know if its state subsidy has been renewed. This normally constitutes a third of its annual budget (which amounts to around 600,000 euros). A sum which nevertheless does not weigh very heavily. Its American equivalent, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), receives between 100 and 150 million dollars from the American government each year. The other two thirds of Point de Contact’s budget comes from member contributions (17 in total including TikTok, Meta, Snap Inc, OVH Cloud…), and the European Union.

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Radio silence, admission of a lack of political will

The platform then tries to contact the CIPDR, the Interministerial Committee for the Prevention of Delinquency and Radicalization, in charge of approving or not its grant. At this period, this branch of the government was entangled in the affair of the Marianne funds (the initiative launched by Marlène Schiappa to fight against “ radicalisation » is the subject of an investigation which shows numerous irregularities). And the organization gets no response.

But according to Jean-Christophe Le Toquin, this radio silence is also an admission of a lack of political will. “ The government’s ambient discourse is to affirm that it is not up to the public authorities to finance Point de Contact, because it is up to the platforms to resolve the problem », he reports. “ No ministry then spoke up to defend us. » This observation is also shared by other actors in the fight against online child crime. The latter believe that as the subject is taboo, many political leaders prefer to sweep it under the rug.

The State and the platforms pass the buck

In the absence of this subsidy, Point de Contact then triggers a “ crisis plan » to continue to survive. The organization records the dismissal of two people out of its six employees. But it still needs to find additional funds, 95,000 euros, to be able to continue operating at a minimum. Because in addition to salaries, Point de Contact invests in different technologies to be able to analyze certain content.

Jean-Christophe Le Toquin manages to collect 54,000 euros. So 41,000 euros remain. But the organization’s member platforms refuse to contribute more.

“Digital players believe that the Internet exceeds the power of platforms, and that they are already doing internal work to “clean” their own interfaces. So they don’t want to pay to clean up other people’s content. And I have empathy for this position. »

Because moreover, not all web platforms and providers are members of Point de Contact. Among cloud players for example, only OVH is one of them.

The world also notes a disagreement between certain members of the association, including Googlewho believes that the association’s strategic plan is not clear. “For several years, the successive plans that have been proposed to continue to keep the association alive have only offered short-term solutions and have never been of a nature to be able to make it evolve and make it live in a manner sustainable, particularly in the light of new regulatory developments”explains a spokesperson for the company daily.

To find the final funds, the organization therefore turns to the public authorities, and more particularly the State Secretariat for Citizenship. Contacted by The Tribune on this subject, the latter has not responded for the moment.

An online child protection laboratory without a budget

The government’s silence is surprising. Especially given the declarations of intentions made in recent months regarding the protection of minors online. In November 2022, Emmanuel Macron launched a Laboratory for Online Child Protection, with the aim of detecting and deploying technologies, in particular to prevent the non-consensual distribution of intimate images. But these initiatives do not receive a specific budget.

A spokesperson for the office of Marina Ferrari, the Secretary of State for Digital Affairs, assures that the fight against online hatred and in particular the protection of minors remains a strong commitment of the government. As evidenced by this, he said, the bill aimed at securing and regulating the digital space (SREN), promulgated and adopted at first reading in October 2023.

Furthermore, the abandonment of Point de Contact is all the more surprising given that the Digital Services Act has just been promulgated for all platforms and intermediary services. This European law requires member states to appoint “ trusted flaggers », organizations with expertise in reporting. A role that Point of Contact, given its experience, could very well fulfill. However, according to the DSA, these flaggers must not be financed primarily by the platforms…

“The Digital Services Act wants to clean up the web but does not have the means to achieve its ambition” (Sonia Cissé, Linklaters)

Jean-Christophe Le Toquin still has a glimmer of hope. He hopes the government will wake up to the announcement of the bankruptcy filing. “ It is also possible that the court will judge that the situation is not so catastrophic. And that a ministry decides to put money on the table “. The president of the organization says he had the support of Marina Ferrari’s cabinet, the ” the only one who made himself available », he explains, but without having the means to influence the decision.