UK PM announces new global action to deal with online child abuse

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The Prime Minister announces new plans to tackle child abuse on the internet at the ‘WeProtect Children Online’ Global Summit in London.

 

The Prime Minister announces new plans to tackle child abuse on the internet at the #WeProtect Children Online Global Summit in London.

  • new unit to tackle paedophiles on the ‘dark net’
  • Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and Twitter unveil new technical solutions to block and remove illegal child abuse material online
  • New UK database enabling swifter identification and investigation by law enforcement of child abuse images
  • New global action to build law enforcement networks and improve child protection in over 30 countries

PM’s anouncement at #WeProtect Children Online summit

An unprecedented package of measures to eradicate online child abuse will be announced today by the Prime Minister at the UK government’s #WeProtect Children Online summit in London. Delegations from more than 50 countries, 26 leading technology companies and 10 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are taking part in the 2-day summit at Lancaster House, the first of its kind in the world.

Speaking at the summit, the Prime Minister will announce a new joint National Crime Agency (NCA)/Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) specialist unit to tackle the worst cases of child sexual exploitation online. Persistent paedophiles are increasingly communicating on the so-called ‘dark web’, using ever more sophisticated techniques to disguise their identities and encrypt the horrific images of children that they are sharing with peers. The new unit will bring together GCHQ’s technical expertise with NCA’s investigatory prowess to develop new high tech capabilities to address the challenges of analysing vast volumes of child abuse imagery hidden on the ‘dark web’. They will focus on the most prolific offenders.

All internet technologies used by these offenders leave ‘digital footprints’ of some form. UK daily users to secret or encrypted networks have increased by 2 thirds according to the NCA who expected to see 20,000 daily UK users in 2013 (CEOP Threat Assessment 2013).

In one recent investigation, GCHQ and the NCA became aware of an individual in the UK using his technical know-how to maintain chat services and websites in the Far East and Eastern Europe to share child abuse material across the world. He also offered advice to other paedophiles about how to hide their behaviour online. The individual was using software which enables online anonymity, as well as an online nickname to disguise his real identity. Analysis by GCHQ and NCA enabled them to identify the individual for arrest. He was charged with making and distributing indecent images of children and later sentenced to 3 years in prison.

Technical solutions

The Prime Minister will also unveil ground-breaking new technical solutions developed by the industry which will support law enforcement action to close the net around paedophiles, protect more children and make it significantly harder to use the internet to share child abuse images:

  • The digital fingerprints (hash values) of thousands of known child sex abuse images identified by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) will be used by the major tech companies (Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Yahoo) to prevent these images being shared on their services, so they can no longer be viewed.
  • Hashing technology which allows known child abuse videos to be identified and blocked from being shared has been developed by Google who will share it with the wider industry. Yahoo will be the first industry partner to pilot it.
  • Microsoft, Google and Mozilla have committed to investigate the feasibility of implementing browser level blocking restrictions designed to prevent people getting access to URLs of known child abuse material via Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox.

The package of measures follows a strongly-worded call to action by the Prime Minister last year where he said that more must be done to reduce the proliferation of child abuse images on the internet.

Since then Google and Microsoft have introduced a number of changes to their search functions not only the UK but across the world. This includes changes to their algorithms to prevent images and videos of child abuse material from appearing in their search results. Microsoft is increasing the size of its search term ‘blacklist’, and Google’s algorithm has now rolled out around the world – in all 40 languages Google search supports – and it automatically checks against millions of search terms. Google has seen a fivefold reduction in the number of searches for child abuse images since these changes were made.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

Every time someone chooses to view an online image or a video of a child being abused, they are choosing to participate in a horrific crime. Every single view represents that victim being abused again. They may as well be in the room with them.

I want to build a better future for our children. The package I am announcing today is a watershed moment in reducing the volume of child abuse images online. It marks significant progress in delivering a truly world-leading response to a global problem.

The so-called ‘dark-net’ is increasingly used by paedophiles to view sickening images. I want them to hear loud and clear, we are shining a light on the web’s darkest corners; if you are thinking of offending there will be nowhere for you to hide.

Global commitments

The Prime Minister will also announce a series of global commitments from more than 30 countries to increase law enforcement ability to track more paedophiles and help more victims. This will be supported by a new £50 million Child Protection Fund – the first of its kind in the world – to support global capacity building to prevent children experiencing violence and exploitation, and to help those who have been victimized. UNICEF will support the development of the new fund, in close partnership with the UK, other governments and partners from civil society and the private sector.

The countries have agreed:

  • To set up their own national databases of child sex abuse material or links to the INTERPOL International CSE Database (ICSE). This database facilitates the sharing and removal of known images across the open internet, and by countries agreeing to put in place the technical infrastructure we will create a global network to better detect criminals and identify victims.
  • To develop, support and promote a victim centred child protection strategy.
  • All countries have committed to have a dedicated law enforcement function, like the UK NCA’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).
  • To build better online reporting mechanisms like the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in key countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle-East.

Uganda, for example will now have a new online child sexual abuse reporting portal, run by the IWF, through which Internet users in Uganda can report any websites depicting child sexual abuse for the first time. They will also be setting up a child helpline ‘116’ for reporting offences against children.

Statements of action

Four statements of action will be signed by the countries and their law enforcement delegations, global tech companies, UK Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and NGOs, to be published at the end of the summit.

Notes to editors

  • Since 2010 the number of offences relating to indecent images of children and reaching a first hearing in the magistrates courts has consistently been more than 20,000 offences a year (around 15,000 in 2006).
  • It is estimated that there may be over 22,500 such offences reaching a first hearing in the magistrates courts in 2014 based on current data – the highest level ever.
  • The biggest increase in volume can be seen for distribution of an indecent image which has seen figures almost double from 736 in 2010 to 1,235 in 2014 (full year figure projected from Jan-Oct 2014 data).
  • More than 1,000 alleged paedophiles have been arrested in Britain in the past 12 months, more than five times the 2012-13 figure of 192.
  • In the last year, more than 1,300 children at risk of abuse have been ‘rescued’ using CEOP’s new high tech methods, and given police protection or placed in care – another huge increase on the 569 total from 2012 to 2013.
  • The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has since 1 April 2014, been proactively seeking out child sexual abuse imagery. During the whole of 2013, the IWF processed 51,168 reports and took action to get images removed from 13,330 web addresses. So far in 2014 total reports processed stand at 70,541 (a 38% increase) while removing images from 27,850 web addresses (a 109% increase, largely as a result of proactive searching).
  • Since 2004 less than 1% of known imagery has been hosted in the UK, making it one of the most hostile territories in the world. This success is due to the partnership working between the IWF, the internet industry, law enforcement and UK government.

The summit builds on the establishment last year of the UK-US taskforce

About NCA CEOP

NCA has over 4,000 officers across the UK, including around 140 international liaison officers serving 100 countries. NCA led and coordinated activity in its first year of operation led to:

  • almost 1,000 disruptions of serious and organised criminals and their groups
  • more than 3,000 arrests across the globe
  • 400 convictions in the UK
  • over 1,300 children safeguarded and protected

141 posts are now dedicated to tackling child sexual exploitation and abuse as opposed to 122 posts in CEOP Centre in 2010 (which included corporate functions such as HR, Communications and Legal).

3.4 million children have received educational material, and have become aware of the ‘Click CEOP’ button now embedded in many websites – a means for children to contact CEOP staff around the clock.

Hidden internet capabilities such as The Onion Router (TOR) enable users to use email and host file storage through end-to-end encrypted and anonymised networks. TOR is by far the most popular network of this type although there are others that operate in a similar fashion.

TOR remains a niche activity, however, as users represent only 0.18% of the total number of internet users in the UK (and 0.26% of those that use the internet daily ).

These figures reflect total use of the TOR and not all those using TOR will do so for criminal purposes.

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