GCHQ is to team up with the UK's National Crime Agency to target paedophiles sharing child abuse images on the "dark net". The as-yet-unnamed unit will focus on developing technology capable of scouring the underbelly of the internet for child abuse-related chat and image exchanges. It will also focus on the most prolific offenders, according to a UK government statement.
In a parallel move, coaching children into uploading indecent images of themselves is to become a criminal offence. Prime Minister David Cameron is due to outline the proposed changes in a speech at the We Protect Children summit in London this morning. Changes in legislation will be applied through the Serious Crime Bill, which is currently making its progress through Parliament, the BBC reports.
The dark net refers to regions of the internet only accessible with anonymity software such as Tor and not indexed by search engines. The "hidden web" focus of a new UK campaign against child abuse images follows progress by groups like the Internet Watch Foundation in purging such content from UK hosted sites.
The IWF removed images from 27,850 websites so far in 2014, already more than double the figures for the whole of 2013. The UK was responsible for an estimated 18 per cent of all child abuse imagery in 1996, a figure that has since dropped to less than one per cent, it says.
Tech giants are playing their part in making it easier to identify and block child abuse images and videos. The digital fingerprints (hash values) of thousands of known child sex abuse images identified by the IWF will be used by the major tech companies (Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Yahoo) to prevent these images that shared on their services, Google has agreed to share hashing technology which allows known child abuse videos to be identified and blocked with the wider industry. Yahoo will be the first industry partner to pilot it.
A new UK database enabling swifter identification and investigation by law enforcement of child abuse images. Johann Hofmann, law enforcement expert at NetClean, which is involved in implementing the first phase of the UK’s national Child Abuse Image Database, commented: "The Child Abuse Image Database (CAID) is a landmark project for law enforcement. Never before has UK law enforcement had such a sophisticated method of sharing and matching critical case data, logging visual evidence and analysing digital media."
He added: "In order to identify and prevent child sexual abuse (CSA) and rescue more victims from abusers, we need technology that addresses two of the most fundamental challenges that law enforcement currently have: resourcing and collaboration. CAID will massively reduce the workload around processing visual data and will enable law enforcement to collaborate on regional, national and international levels."
Meanwhile Microsoft, Google and Mozilla have committed to investigate the feasibility of implementing browser-level blocking restrictions designed to prevent people getting access to URLs of known child abuse material.
The prime minister is also expected to announce a series of global commitments from more than 30 countries to make it easier for police to track more paedophiles and help more victims.
This will be supported by a new £50 million Child Protection Fund. UNICEF will support the development of the new fund, in partnership with the UK, other governments and partners from civil society and the private sector.