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Government investment could fund AI to help in fight against online child sexual abuse material

The Internet Watch Foundation welcomes the Government’s commitment to ‘upgrade’ a database in a bid to tackle online child sexual abuse material.

Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins (left) with IWF CEO Susie Hargreaves

A Minister has attacked the “evilness” of criminals who abuse children online, and paid tribute to the “harrowing” work being done to identify illegal images and safeguard victims.

Speaking in the Commons today (February 27), Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins said the Government is committing extra funds to “upgrade” the Child Abuse Image Database (CAID), which could be used to develop artificial intelligence (AI) to help analysts working to eliminate child sexual abuse material from the internet.

CAID is the national system which helps police identify victims and perpetrators and ensures a consistent approach to grading the seriousness of images of child sexual abuse.

The Internet Watch Foundation, the UK charity responsible for finding and removing images and videos of child sexual abuse from the internet, was the first non law enforcement organisation to be given access to CAID in 2018.

Ms Atkins said: “Online abuse and exploitation can take place, I’m afraid, just with the use of an ordinary mobile phone and have devastating consequences for the child who is targeted, not just in the immediate circumstances of the photo or the video being taken, but of course for many years thereafter as we have been discovering through our work with WePROTECT.”

She said: “New funding will allow us to deliver upgrades to CAID including a fast, forensic tool to analyse rapidly seized devices and find images already known to law enforcement, an image categorisation algorithm to assist officers to identify and categorise the severity of illegal imagery, and a capability to detect images with matching scenes to help identify children in indecent images in order to safeguard victims.”

She added: “We want to do more which is why this year we will be publishing a first of its kind national strategy to tackle child sexual abuse and exploitation.”

Susie Hargreaves, Chief Executive of the IWF, sits on the WePROTECT International Advisory Board.

She said: “Anything which helps with finding and removing criminal child sexual abuse material from the internet is very welcome.

“Our analysts watch hours of footage and, sometimes, thousands of images of children being sexually abused every day, all to make sure they are traced and removed.

“We are committed to making the internet safer, and to making sure the children who are exploited like this are not re-victimised when these images are shared over and over again by predators and criminals.”

Ms Atkins said extra money could help develop artificial intelligence to help analysts classify images of child sexual abuse.

She said: “The evilness, frankly, of the people who conduct their abuse online is truly shocking to behold.

“I visited the CAID operational centre recently myself and I must, if I may, pay tribute to the officers who work extremely hard in, frankly, pretty harrowing circumstances watching and seeing some of the images they have to sort and to classify.

“We have invested this extra money to help officers digitally and technologically because there is so much in this space that the development of AI and others can really do to help ensure that we are getting the perpetrators of these terrible crimes, but also protecting the victims to safeguard them.”

MPs also heard how WePROTECT is helping the UK lead the world in tackling online child sexual abuse material by working across borders.

Tory MP Greg Smith (Buckingham) told the Commons: “I was disturbed to learn from the Internet Watch Foundation a couple of weeks ago that child sexual exploitation online is increasing internationally, particularly from certain countries.

“Can you outline what the Government is doing with countries around the globe to ensure that we are tackling this globally.”

Ms Atkins replied: “This is an area, genuinely, in which this country leads the world.

“Under previous Prime Minister David Cameron we set up an organisation called WePROTECT Global Alliance which draws together countries so we can act internationally because, very often, perpetrators film the  images in one country, and it is then open to the world to see if they have access to that website, that database, that WhatsApp group.

“So, through WePROTECT, we are working with other countries, getting other countries to sign up to the principles.”

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