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Online crime – a lucrative business

Jenny Thornton, IWF International Development Manager

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IWF attends the 35th Cambridge International Symposium on Economic Crime

It is nearly impossible to predict just how much money is exchanged in the dark world of online child sexual abuse. The figure could range from hundreds of thousands, to millions, to billions of pounds. In 2016, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) took action against 42 websites accepting Bitcoin in exchange for sexual images of children for the first time.

These insurmountable statistics show what the charity is up against. That’s why it was so important to me, the new International Development Manager at the IWF, to attend the 35th Cambridge International Symposium on Economic Crime this month. The title, and key question, of the conference was: “Preventing and Controlling Economic Crime in the Modern World – whose responsibility and are they really up to it?”  Its main aim was to promote understanding of the real issues in controlling profit-motivated crime and enable co-operation and effective action, ideally preventive. I was there to see the leaders in the field from the world’s most respected anti-cybercrime committed institutions talk about how they can prioritise and put into practise effective ways to tackle this ever-growing global problem.

I listened to keynote introductory speeches from a variety of international speakers. Every one of them said that the responsibility of cybercrime in the financial and broader sectors requires multi-agency collaboration and that ultimately the responsibility is shared between all stakeholders. This was the main message I took away from the event – collaboration is key. Listening to them talk so passionately made it clear to me why it is so essential that the IWF has members which are world-leading organisations in the technology field such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Sky and Apple. Our members work with us to come up with the latest ways to tackle child sexual abuse material online, and how to stop those profiting from it in their tracks. We could not do what we do without such valuable support and continue to work as a team.

In previous years, the symposium has attracted 1,800 participants from over 90 countries, and this year’s didn’t disappoint. On the first morning the marquee in Jesus College at the University of Cambridge was filled to capacity as talks got underway. The impressive turnout and the eager interest from the audience reflected how important, and deeply relevant, the topic of economic crime is currently. Impressively, there was a tangible will from everyone in the room to work together to combat these crimes. I can’t help but feel incredibly proud to work for an organisation contributing to this worthy cause.

My highlight of the symposium was seeing the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice from Ghana, Miss Gloria Afua Akuffo, give her moving and memorable speech, which emphasised the need to tackle corruption in her country. She said: “Economic corruption is a huge priority for our Government Office. Crime thrives where the law is weak”. She hinted at the need to collaborate not just between industries and organisations, but across international borders too. This is a topic so important to the IWF. The IWF’s work with the online industry has resulted in less than one percent of known child sexual abuse images and videos being hosted in the UK – down from 18 percent in 1996. It’s now vital that we look to grow our connections with key organisations internationally.

The symposium, which lasted a week from 3 September 2017 to 10 September 2017, is held on a non-profit basis. The event taught me that for every person profiting illegally online, there is an army of people working behind the scenes to stop them.

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