89% Reduction in Removal of Child Sexual Abuse Webpages During #COVID19

There has been a huge reduction in the number of webpages featuring child sexual abuse being taken down since the COVID-19 crisis developed in mid-March, according to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), an organization that identifies child sexual abuse content online.

The UK-based charity reported an 89% reduction in these types of webpages being removed during the period from March 16 to April 2020 compared to the previous month, falling from 14,947 to 1498 URLs.

Quoted in The Guardian newspaper, Susie Hargreaves, the chief executive of the IWF, said: “Even though our analysts are working as normal to find this evil content, it is staying available for longer, even after they have reported it. This means there is more opportunity for sexual predators to view and share it.”

The IWF believe this is because tech companies and law enforcement agencies are operating with reduced staff numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore have lower capacity to identify and take down this type of material. Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at ESET, argued that COVID-19 lockdown restrictions may need to be lifted for those working in this area to ensure more effective policing of these webpages.

He commented: “It would not only be impractical for child abuse investigators to work from home, it would in fact be against the guidelines. Viewing indecent imagery needs to be conducted under strict laboratory conditions with employees around. These conditions are in place to help protect the victims and others who should not come in contact of such imagery. It would be socially unacceptable for anyone working for law enforcement or a charity to be able to view this content remotely or on their own.

“To combat child abuse imagery sufficiently throughout the pandemic, these investigators need to be considered as key workers and locate the illegal activity from the lab. However, it is naturally going to be conducted at a reduced rate.”

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