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How Cambridge could play key role in eradicating child sexual abuse imagery from the internet




The Histon-based Internet Watch Foundation is launching a campaign, supported by the Cambridge Independent, to encourage tech companies in the area to join them in the fight against child sexual abuse material on the internet.

Internet Watch Foundation chief executive Susie Hargreaves. Picture: Keith Heppell
Internet Watch Foundation chief executive Susie Hargreaves. Picture: Keith Heppell

Cambridge could play a key role in eradicating child sexual abuse imagery from the internet for good, experts say.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), the charity responsible for finding and removing online child sexual abuse material, says technology companies in the region could lead the way in fighting the “epidemic”.

The IWF, which is based in Histon, wants more companies involved in developing online technology or providing services online to sign up to its services, which help to keep the internet safe.

The charity is also calling on local experts and innovators to join them in pushing forward with finding new solutions and technologies to stay one step ahead of the criminals who spread child sexual abuse material on the internet.

Susie Hargreaves, CEO of the IWF said: “Cambridge is a hotbed of brilliant talent, and it could play a key role in helping us make the internet a safer place for everyone.

“If there is anywhere in the world where new technological solutions to the ongoing epidemic of online child sexual abuse material can be found, it is here.

Inside the Internet Watch Foundation in Histon. Picture: Keith Heppell
Inside the Internet Watch Foundation in Histon. Picture: Keith Heppell

“Technology is evolving fast, and some of the experts at the cutting edge are right on our doorstep. It’s time we harnessed this. We want to see child sexual abuse banished from the internet for good. But we cannot do this alone.”

Already the Histon-based tech charity succeeds in getting millions of images and videos of child sexual abuse removed from the internet globally each year from their Cambridge base.

Last year, IWF analysts processed 260,400 reports, which include tip-offs from members of the public. This is up from 229,328 reports in 2018 – an increase of 14 per cent.

Of these reports, 132,700 showed images and/or videos of children being sexually abused. This compares to 105,047 reports of child sexual abuse material in 2018 – an increase of 26 per cent.

With every report containing between one and thousands of child sexual abuse images and videos, it equates to millions of pieces of content. But the IWF isn’t satisfied with simply removing the imagery. The goal is to prevent its creation and upload to the internet in the first place.

Ms Hargreaves added: “Focusing on the talent right on our doorstep is a first for us. We have support

from some of the global giants of the tech sector, but we’re missing out on the expertise that’s right here, under our noses.

“I want to work with the best people out there. And many of those people live and work right here in Cambridge.

“This small city could prove to be crucial in fighting this evil trade.

Inside the Internet Watch Foundation in Histon. Picture: Keith Heppell
Inside the Internet Watch Foundation in Histon. Picture: Keith Heppell

“Every image or video of child sexual abuse which is shared is another offence against an innocent child. Every victim is real – real children suffering horrendous abuse which no child should ever have to go through.

“If we can partner with local businesses, and local people to fight this, we stand a really good chance of making a big difference, a difference which will be felt by children all across the world.”

The IWF will be working with local businesses, and is looking for experts to join a “hackathon” event in the city in a bid to find innovative solutions to some of the challenges posed online.

Tech companies are also invited to sign up to IWF services which include a “hast list” of known sexual abuse images which have been reduced to a “digital fingerprint” so they can be recognised and removed.

For more information and details of the hackathon and other ways to get involved, visit iwf.org.uk/every5minutes.

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