In an era of cloud storage and prolific Wi-Fi access, we have seen high profile cases demonstrating a clear link between viewing abusive material and the abuse of children. It's clear that the technology and methods currently used to disrupt this crime are not effective enough.
The strategy that follows the summit at No.10, held in June this year, must consider that the majority of this content is not going to be found on the searchable web. The methods of distributing this kind of content are more sophisticated than sharing on social media or searching online. Rather, most of these images and videos are shared via peer-to-peer networks, the dark web and anonymisers like Tor.
Whilst raising the barrier for finding this kind of content is laudable, to focus all of the investment and energy into the searchable web will be papering over the cracks. Sanitising the searchable net will prevent entry level users of this finding or sharing this content, but will do little to neutralise the hardline rings of distributors and creators. It is amongst these groups that significant work needs to be done to save victims and prevent further abuse.
Criminals who create and distribute this content are becoming increasingly sophisticated. This is both in creating ways to access illegal material and uploading images in locations that are very hard to locate or trace. New sites and methods to access this content emerge all of the time. In order to find those who use this material, there is a need for technology that tracks the actual abuse content as opposed to the source. This technology exists and needs to be used. Skimming the surface of this issue is a place to start, but it will not be enough.
The donations given to IWF by Google and some of the UKs largest ISPs show recognition of the scope of the problem. It's critical, however, to remember that the focus of the debate needs to be about the need for new technology. Adding man-hours to searching the internet will not be enough to tackle this problem in a meaningful way. New technology combined with collaboration between those who have the expertise and power to implement this on a wider scale is essential.
Powerful technology exists but is not used enough. The majority of child sexual abuse images are not accessed over the internet, but in more obscure places such as P2P networks and the dark web which mainstream security technology and efforts are not equipped to handle. It's vital that technology that tracks the image - and not just the source, such as URLS or domains - are being deployed by organisations around the world. Specialist child sexual abuse security companies, law enforcements, public sector and businesses simply have to collaborate closer. Otherwise this problem will never get solved.
The growth in child sexual abuse images is pushing global police forces and forensic units in charge of identifying illegal child sexual abuse images online to breaking point.
All modern crime has a digital element and with law enforcement resources more scarce than ever before, fewer people are investigating a growing backlog of forensic data. With investigation and victim identification a notoriously time consuming and gruelling task, time and resources are stretched too thin.
Often the same images of abuse remain in circulation for many years but when new images enter circulation it often means new victims. Identifying, finding and rescuing these new victims, wherever they may be, is imperative. However, police forces need more support to enable them to share case information with one another, to help find abusers before new images can begin circulating.
June's summit was a huge step for collaboration in the fight against child abuse and it's great to welcome these companies to the front line of this problem. The tools, resources and technologies are there for us to disrupt this crime on a far wider scale and we must bring this experience to bear.
Everyone who can help stop this crime must work together. Those who provide cloud storage, the ISPs, the search engines, governments, law enforcement, NGOs, technology specialists and any organisation connected to the Internet, all have a role to play.
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