THE BLOG
04/09/2015 13:28 BST | Updated 04/09/2016 06:59 BST

Securing Children's Safety in a Digital World

There can be no greater mission than to protect children and enable them to use the internet to learn, dream, create and communicate without fear. Together we can help end sexual exploitation of children online and give them the future they deserve.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." - Benjamin Franklin

Today global tech leaders are meeting in London to continue the vital work of the WeProtect global initiative. This initiative was created by the UK Government in April 2014 to address the alarming escalation of horrific sexual abuse and exploitation of children all around the world.

The premise behind WeProtect is that those who create global technology products, services and platforms are best positioned to develop the solutions that protect children from these vile perpetrators of horrific crimes.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said that sexual exploitation is happening "on an industrial scale with networks spanning the world and children being abused to order". He has made tackling this problem a top government priority and I am proud to lead this effort as Minister for Internet Safety and Security.

Whilst it is hard to quantify the numbers of young people who have been spared abuse and saved from horrific crimes, an ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure. And WeProtect is absolutely working. Today I want to recognise the unsung heroes developing these vital solutions and commend our partners who are dedicating resources and teams to this effort.

But even with all of the good will and progress made, the criminals are becoming more sophisticated in their approach and it's increasingly difficult to stay ahead. We are having to take aim at a constantly moving target.

Ever faster mobile Internet access and other factors such as anonymous access and payment methods create the horrifying likelihood that online abuse will only increase in the future.

And it's no longer just adults grooming children for later contact offline, children are now being coerced to produce photos and videos of sexual nature without ever meeting their abuser, and in some cases, the abuse is live-streamed to paying customers across the world. Unless we intervene, these image or video, depicting the horrific crime of child sexual abuse will be shared millions and millions of times.

But we are making progress. And rapid progress at that. Leading companies working as part of WeProtect are developing new tools including image recognition technology to automate and speed up the process of victim identification, and tools to help young people recognise suspicious interactions, protect themselves from harm and report perpetrators.

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In December last year, twenty leading technology companies signed up to the WePROTECT Global Statement of Action alongside 50 countries and international organisations. These landmark commitments mandate concrete action to identify and rescue victims, apprehend perpetrators, and remove child abuse images from the Internet. Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Twitter agreed to take hashes (digital identifiers) of child sexual abuse images from the Internet Watch Foundation to detect and remove child sexual abuse material from their platforms and services.

Google and Microsoft have also made significant progress in ensuring that child sexual abuse images and videos do not show up in their search results. As a result of these changes, Google has seen an eight-fold reduction in people searching for such material, and both have introduced technology that allows us to identify and remove images and videos of child abuse online.

But progress is not inevitable - we must stay diligent. We must leverage the transformative power of industry and government coming together to tackle this vile crime and bring together more and more people in this fight. These past two days in London have been encouraging as we had 60 participants, many of them from new countries, expanding the global coalition of the willing who are committed to combating online abuse and exploitation.

This is an initiative the UK Government is proud to lead but the global nature of the Internet means the UK cannot solve this challenge alone. We need more world leading experts in data analytics, machine learning, and cyber intelligence to join us, and more companies to take up this fight. Global products and services must be "safe by design".

The UK government is now preparing for a second WeProtect summit, in Abu Dhabi on November 16-17, where we will continue this vital work and take forward the commitments in the global statement of action. We have put £50 million into a new UNICEF fund that will focus on preventing violence against children, including online sexual exploitation.

There can be no greater mission than to protect children and enable them to use the internet to learn, dream, create and communicate without fear.

Together we can help end sexual exploitation of children online and give them the future they deserve.

Baroness Joanna Shields is Minister for Internet Safety and Security