Cameron Calls in the Spies to Deal With Child Abuse Online

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The UK’s National Crime Agency will work with spy agency GCHQ in a ‘new’ initiative to tackle child sexual exploitation online, according to plans presented by prime minister David Cameron on Thursday.

Speaking at the international #WeProtect Children Online summit in London, Cameron said the unit would combine GCHQ’s technical expertise with the NCA’s investigatory powers to try to deal with the vast amount of material circulated every day on the ‘dark web’ – that is, plaforms like Tor which allow for anonymity online.

Users of such technology have increased by two-thirds, according to NCA figures cited by the government.

The technology industry has also been working on various projects to “close the net around paedophiles,” according to the government.

These include an initiative by the Internet Watch Foundation to share the hash values of thousands of known child sex abuse images with companies like Facebook, Microsoft and Google to prevent them being shared on various popular platforms.

Also on the agenda is Google hashing technology which will identify and block child abuse videos. This will be shared with the wider industry, with Yahoo the first to trial it.

Finally, Microsoft, Google and Mozilla have said they will look at the feasibility of blocking URLs of known child abuse materials at the browser level, according to Number 10.

Changes in the law will also make it a criminal offence to ‘sext’ children.

“I want to build a better future for our children. The package I am announcing today is a watershed moment in reducing the volume of child abuse images online. It marks significant progress in delivering a truly world-leading response to a global problem,” Cameron said in a strongly worded statement.

“The so-called ‘dark-net’ is increasingly used by paedophiles to view sickening images. I want them to hear loud and clear, we are shining a light on the web’s darkest corners; if you are thinking of offending there will be nowhere for you to hide.”

However, the prime minister’s tough talk did not impress some industry experts.

Former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), Jim Gamble, claimed most of the measures announced were “rehashed” – that CEOP was already working with GCHQ in the past and that industry has been “leading by example” for several years.

"When I was with CEOP, we had a seconded member of GCHQ. We looked at the technology offenders were using. If they are saying that, for the past three and-a-half years, that has not been happening, then they need to say why," he told Channel 4 News.

"The problem is that, in the background, there has been a lot of horse-trading and arm-twisting for the headline, the silver bullet. But the truth is that the NSPCC has already been looking for this change in the law for a while. They are playing party politics to hide the fact that CEOP has been withering."

Former CEOP officer Sharon Girling added that thousands more police officers are needed to deal with the problem.

“The NCA have 4,000 staff and yet only 141 of those staff are allocated to policing child abuse on the internet. That’s simply not enough,” she told the same programme.

“One hundred million images; 60,000 names and addresses of alleged sex ofienders they’d like to investigate…we just do not have the resources.”

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