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Peter Wanless

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Let's Wipe the Web Clean of Child Abuse

Posted: 19/11/2013 17:35

I will remember 2013 as the year when despicable child abuse images captured the attention of a government leader. Prime minister David Cameron should be praised for his leadership in demanding faster action on this critical issue; industry has responded well to his challenge. The NSPCC has welcomed the major steps forward at yesterday's online safety summit, while agreeing that the job is not done until child abuse images are wiped off the internet for good.

Google and Microsoft have promised that only clean and safe search webpages will be returned for over 100,000 terms that could be used when someone is searching for child abuse images.

Their approach will demand sustained effort and attention if it is to work. While excellent to hear, it is results, in terms of reductions in the numbers of these horrific images and increases in the amount of children protected, that will be the true measures of success.

There needs to be zero visibility of vile images of child abuse through our mainstream search channels not just today, but the next month, and the year after that...

We should not underestimate the size of the war there is to fight. In the UK the police confiscate millions of images of children being abused each year, which only hints at the true number in circulation. And the responsibility for tackling this problem cannot fall at the feet of the internet industry alone.

That is why, for me, the lasting battle cry of yesterday's online safety summit must be a promise that combatting child abuse images will remain at the front of the political and public consciousness.

Lodged firmly in our minds must be that every video or photo is a little boy or girl - most often a child under 10 years old - whose horrendous experience has been captured and shared, and has the potential to be held for their lifetime on hard drives around the globe. This is not "child porn". This is unspeakable abuse traded as a commodity.

Suppressing visibility of illegal material is not enough in itself. We know that. While industry can and should build on yesterday's progress, beyond the 'open' internet and into the darker corners of the web, where we know so much of this material passes hands, we need to see decisive action taken against those who create such images, wherever they are in the world.

We heard this week how the industry are working with the National Crime Agency and the Internet Watch Foundation to tackle the hidden online networks paedophiles use to share child abuse images.

The new UK/US Taskforce for online child sexual exploitation must help find cross-border solutions to this trans-national challenge. The consequence needs to be arrests and jail sentences for the disgusting criminals who are creating and distributing such abhorrent images.

If 2013 has been about wiping child abuse images off the face of the most well-known public search services, I hope at the end of 2014 we will be reflecting on the remarkable progress made to expose the online underworlds that keep this sickening trade alive. This is the key child protection challenge of a generation and while demand goes undetected and unpunished, our children remain at risk.

 

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