abused child

Child abuse images ‘digitally fingerprinted’ to prevent online sharing

Image credit: Dreamstime

A new task force will create digital fingerprints (hashes) of millions of the most severe child sexual abuse images and videos so that they can be quickly identified and removed from the internet.

The team, which has been set up by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), will work internationally and create hashes from two million Category A and B images from the UK Government’s Child Abuse Image Database (CAID).

They will then distribute the hashes globally to tech companies, allowing them to be blocked or removed should anyone attempt to share them anywhere in the world.

Category A images involve penetrative sexual activity and sexual activity with an animal or sadism, while Category B images involve non-penetrative sexual activity.

The IWF is the only non-law-enforcement body with access to CAID. The work will boost the UK’s contribution to global efforts to stop the distribution of child sexual abuse images on the internet and help to keep the internet a safer place for all.

Hashing an image or video is a process which produces a unique code like a “digital fingerprint” so that it can be recognised and dealt with quickly by the IWF or its partners in the future.

The work will enable tech companies to take swift action to prevent the spread of this abusive material.

Susie Hargreaves OBE, chief executive of the IWF, said: “We’ve created this world-leading task force of highly trained analysts to help boost the global efforts to stop the distribution of child sexual abuse imagery online.

“Not only will this absolutely vital work help to create a safer internet for us all, but it will help those victims whose sexual abuse imagery is shared time and time again, preventing their continued re-victimisation and exploitation.”

Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins said: “This government is determined to ensure that we are doing everything in our power to prevent child sexual abuse online and the innovative use of technology is central to this.

“I am pleased that Child Abuse Image Database (CAID) data is helping the IWF to carry out this valuable work towards reducing access to child sexual abuse material online.

“Our Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy highlights that our investment in CAID will allow greater sharing of data to help safeguard more victims and bring more offenders to justice.”

In 2020, the IWF dealt with a record number of reports of online child sexual abuse. Analysts processed 299,600 reports, which include tip-offs from members of the public. This is up from 260,400 reports in 2019, an increase of 15 per cent.

It was reported in November that the Covid-19 pandemic has created a “perfect storm” for online child abuse with cases rising rapidly since the first lockdowns began in March.

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