‘Tech giants still put profit before responsibility’

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Chief Constable Bailey will take aim at social media companies in final speech

Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead on child protection, will use his final day in office to warn that the fight against child sexual abuse can only be won with the support of the social media giants.

The outgoing head of Norfolk Constabulary will deliver a speech on Wednesday, 30 June at the PIER21 conference, organised by Anglia Ruskin University’s Policing Institute for the Eastern Region.

During his talk he will say that Facebook’s decision to introduce blanket end-to-end encryption threatens to “turn the lights off” on the issue of online child sexual abuse, allowing offenders to upload, share and view indecent images undetected.

Chief Constable Bailey, who is retiring from the police on 30 June after 35 years’ service, will say:

“Unfortunately, the technology industry continues to put profit before safeguarding children. Facebook is already the most used platform for the sharing of indecent images and yet they are planning to wilfully blind themselves by introducing end-to-end encryption across their services. This will simply turn the lights off on our ability to effectively monitor this activity. It is open to Facebook to change those plans.

“The Government has produced an Online Safety White Paper, and a full government response to the consultation, which would see Ofcom given powers to fine companies for hosting this material. But if nobody can see what is being uploaded, this won’t stop the offending.

“Social media companies have the ability to make the uploading, viewing and sharing of indecent images so much harder, but they choose not to invest in the technology to eradicate it. In fact by applying end-to-end encryption irresponsibly they are making it easier. The technology is there to stop people uploading these images, but they continue to put profit over safeguarding children.”

Chief Constable Bailey will describe the current scale of offending as an “epidemic”. There are now 20 million unique images of child sexual abuse securely stored on the Police’s Child Abuse Image Database (CAID), and this figure is increasing at a rate of approximately 250,000 every month. The National Crime Agency estimates there are between 500,000 and 850,000 people in the UK who pose a threat to children.

Looking back on his time as the NPCC’s national lead on child protection, he will say:

“During the last seven years the UK has become far better at targeting offenders and investigating all forms of sexual abuse, we are world leading targeting online abuse, but despite this response, the number of victims and offenders is increasing.

“Nine years ago the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre were responsible for coordinating 192 arrests in a year, police working in partnership with the National Crime Agency are now dealing with 850 offenders a month. Our partnership has seen us safeguarding tens of thousands of young people, but the volume of offences continues to grow, the depravity is getting worse, and the victims are getting younger.

“The scale is simply overwhelming. The police and the NCA are doing everything we can but the onus now needs to be on the social media giants, who are still absolving themselves of responsibility.”

The PIER21 conference at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), taking place on 29-30 June, will bring together leading researchers to present the most up-to-date work focusing on the investigation and prevention of online child sexual abuse.

The online conference will highlight what is being done to combat the threat, the latest technology available to law enforcement targeting abusers, and the emergence of new threats. In addition to Chief Constable Bailey, invited speakers will include Susie Hargreaves of the Internet Watch Foundation and Rob Jones, Director of Threat Leadership at the National Crime Agency.

ARU’s PIER carries out research into child sexual abuse and in December 2020 received £860,000 funding from the Dawes Trust to investigate, help shape policy, and develop solutions to some of the issues currently being faced.

This four-year research programme will see PIER work closely with the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, and the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), and will be led by Dr Samantha Lundrigan, the Director of PIER.

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