09:07, September 03 216 0 theguardian.com

2018-09-03 09:07:32
Javid: tech firms not taking online child sexual abuse seriously

Some technology firms are refusing to take online child sexual abuse seriously enough, the home secretary has said while announcing an extra £21.5m to help investigators track down offenders.

Sajid Javid said he didn’t want to “name and shame” the companies because he wanted to give them a chance to respond, but if they did not he would “not be afraid to take action” against them.

Speaking at the headquarters of the NSPCC in London in what was trailed by the Home Office as a landmark speech, Javid said he had been impressed at the progress made “by the likes of Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter” in removing terrorist content, but now wanted them to make the same level of commitment to battle child sexual exploitation.

“How far we legislate will be informed by the action and attitude that the industry takes,” said Javid, who announced that he would be convening a meeting of industry experts in the US, in partnership with Microsoft, to challenge companies to work together to create tools to detect online child grooming.

The announcement came as figures from the National Crime Agency (NCA) revealed that up to 80,000 people in the UK present some kind of sexual threat to children online, although experts cautioned that this was a conservative estimate.

Javid also promised “concerted international cooperation” at the next Five Country Ministerial meeting, an annual meeting of the “Five Eyes” security partnership of Britain, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which will be held in London in 2019 and will focus on targeting online child sexual abuse.

The home secretary chose not to spell out what any future legislation would involve and, when pressed, declined to say if it would include forcing technology firms to share their encryption codes with police and intelligence services. The NCA said this week that end-to-end encryption and increased anonymity on the internet were progressively becoming standard.

Javid said the majority of the new funding would go towards tackling the most tech-savvy users, as investigators said they faced a constant uphill struggle because of the sheer number of offenders committing what should be “preventable” crimes, such as viewing and sharing images online.

He said a further £2.6m would be made available for prevention work, including that carried out by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, which works to reduce online demand for sexual abuse images of children.

Javid said he expected technology companies to block child sexual abuse material as soon as they detected it being uploaded, stop child grooming taking place on their platforms and work with government and the police to shut down live streamed child abuse.

On the latter problem, which has increased as broadband speeds have improved and technology has eased online payments, Javid said: “There is no difference to doing this sort of thing to a child in your bedroom in Manchester and having someone else doing it in Manila.”

The home secretary also said that he expected companies to show a much greater level of openness and transparency and a willingness to share best practice. Referring to advances that had been made to tackle the use of online platforms by terror groups, he said that the same tech companies had not kept up the same pace when it came to using algorithms to detect and prevent abuse.

Restrictions that are supposed to keep children safe are either not being enforced or do not meet expectations, he added, and investigators had overwhelming evidence that abuse does take place on online platforms.