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GCHQ plans to use AI to detect child abuse and human trafficking

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GCHQ has laid out plans to use AI tools to combat increasingly sophisticated criminal activities, such as trafficking of humans, weapons, and drugs, child sexual exploitation, cyberattacks, and disinformation campaigns.

A paper called Ethics of AI: Pioneering a New National Security lays out why the technology - by enabling problem-solving at scale and speed - will be at the heart of the agency’s mission going forwards.

By sifting through vast quantities of data, AI tools could map international networks which carry out illegal trafficking, concealing their activities using end-to-end encryption and virtual currencies. For instance, these tools could automate scanning chat rooms for evidence of grooming in ways that humans would struggle to uncover given the sheer scale of the data, hunting down people and their services on the dark web.

Other tools could be used to identify and block botnets disseminating disinformation on social media platforms, or automate the detection of malicious software which could target businesses and public bodies with cyber-attacks. Almost half of UK companies and a quarter of charities reported a security breach or cyber attack in the past 12 months, with one in five resulting in significant loss of data or funds.

While human analysts are indispensable in investigating these crimes, AI is a valuable tool for filtering data and pointing towards fragments of interest.

GCHQ said that these tools must be used ethically; the paper lays out a plan for developing an ethical code of practice for AI. It acknowledged that it must hire more diversely and apply tests of necessity and proportionality as part of its effort to use the technology appropriately.

“AI, like so many technologies, offers great promise for society, prosperity, and security,” said GCHQ director Jeremy Fleming. “It’s impact on GCHQ is equally profound. AI is already invaluable in many of our missions as we protect the country, its people and way of life. It allows our brilliant analysis to manage vast volumes of complex data and improves decision-making in the face of increasingly complex threats, from protecting children to improving cyber security.”

“While this unprecedented technological evolution comes with great opportunity, it also poses significant ethical challenges for all of society, including GCHQ. Today we are setting out our plan and commitment to the ethical use of AI in our mission,” he continued. “I hope it will inspire further thinking at home and abroad about how we can ensure fairness, transparency, and accountability to underpin the use of AI.”

The paper also lays out plans to support the UK’s AI sector, with the establishment of an industry-facing AI Lab at GCHQ’s Manchester base; this will prototype security projects.

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