Think there is nothing you can do? Think again…
21 January 2021 at 7:15 am
A new partnership promises to help Australian organisations use technology to build environments which keep children safe, write Natalie Siegel-Brown, Michael Mackay and James Mann from Child Wise.
The rapid pace at which technology has advanced in recent times has undoubtedly exacerbated the risk of child abuse online. As such, increasingly sophisticated technology has proven to be critical in the fight against the production and dissemination of child sex abuse material (CSAM).
The problems that face our society, and particularly its most vulnerable cohorts, require a greater level of cooperation across organisations and communities. The increasingly technical and borderless nature of this crime type demands that all aspects of our community rally behind this effort, and recognise the important role that everyone has in building safe environments for children.
Harnessing community organisations and private companies in the fight against the spread of child sexual abuse material
The Swedish company NetClean Technologies has recognised the importance of harnessing the resources of the wider community in order to fight the spread of CSAM more effectively. NetClean ProActive is a technology that uses several image hashing techniques, including PhotoDNA, to detect when staff have handled, accessed, or otherwise possessed known CSAM on work computers. Where these alerts are raised, the companies then report to the police and provide them with the information necessary to conduct initial enquiries. Child Wise has been catalytic in bringing this technology to Australia.
This technology has had a strong take-up in Europe, and during 2019 it was present on over a million corporate computers across the world. Data from NetClean shows that in 2018 one in every 500 staff used their work computer to access, consume or share CSAM; and what we know from experts in the sector is that where there’s one image, there’s usually many more.
While that figure alone is alarming, the fact of the matter is that it has continued to get worse. According to the ACCCE’s own data, the rate at which reports of child abuse were received during the period including the first three months of pandemic lockdowns in 2020 grew by a staggering 123 per cent. And although police and sector experts are somewhat divided on the topic (academics citing a lack of empirical data for analysis), a concern exists about the correlation between the offending behaviours of those who engage in browsing and accessing CSAM and direct contact offences including the grooming and assault of children, and the production of CSAM. The context of the pandemic lockdowns, e.g. isolation, less contact with safe places such as schools and support services, has increased vulnerability for many children; simultaneously, that same context creates an increased level of privacy which may make it easier for offenders to abuse children.
Supporting organisations to build environments which keep children safe
Child Wise will work with corporate Australia to implement the ProActive technology in their technical environments. Since 1991, Child Wise has been supporting public, private and not-for-profit organisations to build environments which keep children safe. Throughout this time, we have met with victim survivors of child abuse and their loved ones, heard their stories, and been humbled by their strength. And we have heard them when they say resoundingly that prevention of abuse is of the utmost importance; and this is indeed our mission. Child Wise continues to diversify the many ways it works to prevent abuse, and has recently partnered with NetClean to bring its ProActive technology to Australian shores.
Emerging trends and challenges for law enforcement
In their yearly report for 2019, NetClean drew upon representatives of law enforcement agencies (LEA) across 41 countries in relation to identifying emerging trends, challenges, and opportunities for law enforcement on a global scale in relation to this crime type. NetClean’s annual report notes that:
- emerging technologies including cloud storage, utilising social media, and end-to-end encryption have the capability to circumvent traditional corporate filtering solutions;
- there is a growing role for artificial intelligence to play in relation to identifying victims and classifying CSAM, as a tool for LEAs;
- live-streamed CSAM is growing at an alarming rate, and is often a problem that originates in our own backyard; and
- children are increasingly vulnerable to exploitation as technology moves faster than prevention strategies.
The full report is available via NetClean’s website, www.netclean.com.
We are fortunate to frequently have the opportunity to engage with current and former law enforcement officials on the topic of CSAM, and am heartened to hear about the collaborative, victim-centric approach they take in combating child abuse and exploitation. Not only do we get to read about huge, landscape-altering operations that make the papers (including the recent Operation Molto and the 16 child victims that have already been safeguarded), but also the smaller-scale more routine matters that can also yield huge results for individuals.
Behind every image or video, is a child
It is often thought that the circulation of CSAM is a lower tier of offending, which has a lesser impact on victim survivors due to a lack of direct contact. This fails to acknowledge that behind every image and video is an abused child who continues to be retraumatised every time they contemplate the fact that the material is still out there, wondering when and where the material may resurface, and if it will impact their life somehow. They know the literal impossibility of ever truly removing the media from circulation and this creates a significant barrier to healing.
For our part, Child Wise will continue to raise awareness, facilitate access to resources such as NetClean ProActive technology, and collaborate with the broadest possible cross-section of stakeholders in the prevention of abuse. After all, even in this enlightened day and age, it really does take a village to raise a child safely.