Technology is a wonderful thing but while the majority of people will use it for proper and honest purposes, there will always be a small percentage who will use it for unethical reasons. And this is an important point to make – people use the technology for illegal or immoral purposes; the technology itself is not the issue. Many people will blame the technology for all types of cyber crime – the technology is neutral – it does not undertake the criminal act or form the intent to commit the crime - it is simply an enabler. It is no different to a gun used in an armed robbery or a screwdriver used to break into a house – they are the tools used in the criminal act.
Many blame the current surge in the number of people being prosecuted for the possession and dissemination of child abuse material on the technology. The technology does not type the search criteria or browse networks looking for images of children being sexually abused. It is the vile individual sitting in front of the computer or using other forms of smart devices who has the perverted interest in young children.
While technology is an enabler for this type of crime, we need to be better at using technology to prevent the dissemination of child exploitation material. Law enforcement cannot deal with this issue alone, we need to work with industry and other sectors in the community to address it.
In the early days of the internet, child abuse material was traditionally traded via websites on a pay-per-view basis. The majority of these websites were based in Eastern Europe with the majority of their ‘customers’ coming from western countries. The Financial Coalition Against Child Pornography working with the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has all but put an end to this practice. This is a very good example of a non law enforcement solution.
But as with any good criminal enterprise, offenders will always find other ways of doing business. In recent times we have seen a move towards the dissemination of child abuse material by cyber predators, on the platforms of content service providers as well as through peer-to-peer and virtual private networks.
Earlier this year Facebook, which is the internet’s largest content service provider, announced that it would start using Micrsoft’s PhotoDNA across its platform. PhotoDNA acts as a digital fingerprint from photographs to be able to find and identify other versions of the same photo online. The deployment of this product will further enhance Facebook’s ability to locate child abuse material across its platform and more importantly help to prevent the spread of the depraved material.
Here in Australia a number of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have agreed to voluntarily block URLs known to contain child abuse material.
There has been some criticism about these schemes and the doomsayers say that those committed to obtain child abuse material can readily by-pass these processes. This may be true to some degree, but that should not stop us putting some processes in place to stop those that are merely curious. And I am more than interested in hearing their expert views on how we can stop the spread of this material – it is easy to knock those trying to make a difference, but coming up with some solutions without being inherently pessimist is the best route. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, I support anything that prevents the proliferation of child abuse material on the internet.
I have spoken to members of the Technology Coalition with NCMEC who are willing to work with law enforcement to stop the trade it child abuse material. Law enforcement is not going to prosecute its way out of this problem. Everyone needs to work together to protect our kids from abuse.
Some areas in industry have been super in responding to the fact that their platforms / communication modes are being used to distribute child abuse material. So I am issuing a challenge to those that run peer-to-peer platforms and virtual private networks to come up with the solutions. Your systems are being used to distribute child abuse material – we have the arrest data to prove it and unfortunately the material we are seizing has not been seen by law enforcement before - this tells us the users of the networks or those close to them, are sexually abusing kids! I’m sure all in the community look forward to hearing your response.