GSM operators gathered in Barcelona to launch a new initiative to prevent the use of mobile phones in the distribution of child pornography.
"We are here to tackle a very disturbing and damaging phenomenon," said Craig Ehrlich, chairman of the GSM Association, a group of mobile network operators, announcing the launch of the Mobile Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Content at the Mobile World Congress.
"It's now simple for the lay person to post videos they have captured with their mobile phone to Web sites," he said, warning that such technologies are also exploited by criminals to create and distribute illegal content.
The members of the new alliance pledge to block sites known to host child pornography in order to protect children, preventing access to sites identified as illegal by law enforcement agencies.
They also pledge to take down doubtful content hosted on their own services in response to reports from members of the public.
But the operators also want government protection themselves -- from accusations of censorship.
"We need governments to minimize the risk to operators wherever block lists don't exist today," said Boris Nemsic, CEO of Telekom Austria and chairman of the GSMA Public Policy Committee.
Asked whether filters might be abused by some governments to censor other content that they objected to for political reasons, Ehrlich said that this intitiative focuses purely on preventing the distribution of child pornography.
"We are trying to emphasize that safety is important but safety should not be used as a reason to block other information. The good side of the information society should not be blocked by the bad side of it," said Hamadoun Tour�, Secretary-General at the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations organization.
Viviane Reding, European Commissionner for the Information Society, welcomed the move, adding that the European Commission will reinforce it by encouraging cooperation with Interpol and Europol.
Norwegian operator Telenor is one of the pioneers of such filtering, having put measures in place on its Internet access and mobile networks in 2004, said Morten Karlsen S�rby, Executive Vice President of Telenor Nordic.
The company blocked 274 sites in 2004, and 5,300 at the start of this year. It blocks around 15,000 attempts to access sites on the block list each day, S�rby said.
However, there will always be ways for organized criminals to beat such filtering, he said. "If you are really interested in getting through the filter, it's possible," he said.