Anna Borgström explains why businesses and employers have a key role to play in working to prevent online child sexual abuse – and sets out how NetClean Technologies can help.
The internet is rapidly becoming the predominant gateway to information but also a hub for many illegal activities. When traditional offline crimes become cybercrime, they increase in scale with the use of computers and networks, reaching and affecting far more people than previously possible. One crime that has found a dark home online is child sexual abuse crime, which is disseminated through the many layers and services online. However, with technology, awareness, and the right actors in play, we can prevent online child sexual abuse and reduce the detriment to victimised children.
Perpetrators without a profile
Research shows that there is no such thing as a typical child abuse offender. There is a prevailing stereotype of a loner and odd character who preys on vulnerable children who he does not know; however, this is wrong. Perpetrators live amongst us and can just as easily be outgoing and successful in their lives.
With it being difficult to identify perpetrators without finding incriminating material first, technology is the key to finding perpetrators and also victimised children. If material is found on a computer, the police can use the evidence to find abused children, both on material shared from other parts of the world and by investigating the perpetrator’s immediate environment. Repeated research shows that most people who sexually abuse youngsters target children in close proximity – their own children, step-children, friends of their children, and children they come across through their chosen professions.
The workplace computer
The majority of child sexual abuse material that law enforcement finds in investigations is stored on private storage devices, such as hard drives, computers, mobile phones, and cloud services. However, even though the material is often stored on private devices it can be downloaded, shared, and consumed in other ways – often on work computers. It does not seem very smart nor sophisticated to view illegal material on a work computer; however, the instinctive ownership between private and workplace computers is easily and frequently blurred.
Most people are in employment, which means that businesses and organisations are in a unique position to find those with a sexual interest in children. NetClean’s research shows that just over one in 1,000 employees will use their work computers to search, watch, and sometimes download online child sexual abuse material. By following a trace of an image, made possible by tools such as NetClean ProActive, people with a sexual interest in children can be found and children can be rescued.
Changing company culture and awareness
This relatively simple way of detecting an image is why NetClean is working hard to install awareness about this problem into all company culture and find ways for employers, big and small, to engage with this issue. We talk about brand protection and corporate social and ethical responsibility. We talk about the risk to businesses and the consequences of facilitating a crime which will lead to police enforcement, and the risk to individuals who might be made vulnerable should they come across abuse images stored on a workplace server. We speak about taking responsibility for the business and its employees but also about working in collaboration with the government, police, and civil society. To us, it does not seem unreasonable to ask businesses to assume a responsibility as future employers and help ensure that all children can reach their potential without suffering from harm.
Self-regulation can work
The European Commission recently announced operational measures that companies and member states must take before the EU considers further legislation in this area. The measures, accompanied by necessary safeguards, addressed several areas, including industry and big and small businesses.
The commission called for ‘voluntary arrangements, [to] co-operate and share experiences, best practice and technological solutions, including tools allowing for automatic detection’. This is asking companies to set aside market competitiveness and work across sectors to ensure that we find the best way to stop the dissemination of online child sexual abuse. This is a great recognition of work that is already happening and that needs to be further encouraged.
Another call was for more efficient tools and proactive technology to detect and remove illegal content. At NetClean our goal is to ensure that companies think that installing detection software is as much common sense as installing virus-scanning software. We are making headway because there is more awareness and companies are more willing to engage with this issue. We welcome discussions about more regulation; however, it is important to recognise the work that is already being undertaken.
The fact is that self-regulation is to a certain extent already working. The internet consists of many different layers and services. There are websites, P2P, cloud services, instant messaging, and the Darknet, to name a few. Child sexual abuse material is spread through all these layers. We therefore need to ensure that we have technology that matches this complex space. Many online companies already act to safeguard their platforms, and in addition governments have tools that make reporting material possible.
Internet service providers find and block domains, URLs, images, and videos depicting child sexual abuse by using technology and lists; for example, INTERPOL, the Internet Watch Foundation or national police, social media companies, e.g. Facebook, Kik and Snapchat, and search engines like Google report and remove material found on their platforms. Hotlines receive tips from the public and use technology such as crawlers that result in takedown and notice.
The key is technology and corporate social responsibility
Inspired by the WePROTECT Global Alliance Model, which provides guidance and support to countries on how to build capacity to fight child sexual abuse online and offline, NetClean has developed a ‘technical model national response’. It illustrates and focuses solely on the different technologies and methodologies that need to be in place to effectively fight the spread of child sexual abuse material on a national level. In this film (https://www.netclean.com/2018/05/03/new-national-response-model-focusing-on-technology/) you can see examples of how the different actors work. Key to success is that all this technology is used – simultaneously and not one at the exclusion of another – otherwise illegal content will continue to be shared on the internet. If we do this and work to ensure that businesses and organisations understand their role in fighting online child sexual abuse, then there is no reason why we cannot reduce the dissemination of child sexual abuse material online.