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Cambridge foundation strike landmark deal in global fight against child sex abuse images

A Cambridge-based foundation fighting to protect children from sexual abuse images on the internet have struck a landmark agreement with an American counterpart.

Cambridge’s Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and the USA’s National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) have announced a link-up agreement aimed at better protecting children whose sexual abuse images are shared and traded on the internet.

Landmark deal for Cambridge foundation involved in fighting child sex abuse images on the internet
Landmark deal for Cambridge foundation involved in fighting child sex abuse images on the internet

The IWF will now share its known hashes of child sexual abuse imagery with internet companies in the US and beyond, through a platform hosted by the National Center. This will help internet companies stop the upload, sharing and storing of such content.

Hashing is a form of digital fingerprint which allows an image to be identified the moment someone attempts to upload it.

The IWF identifies and removes online images and videos of child abuse, as well as offering a place for the people to report them anonymously.

The move is seen as a giant step forward in providing global internet companies with greater access to a larger pool of hashes to stop the upload, sharing and storage of this criminal imagery on their platforms.

The non-profit, NCMEC, operates the CyberTipline, a centralised reporting system for the online sexual exploitation of children.

The CyberTipline also functions as a global hub for hash-sharing with internet companies around the world. With the addition of IWF’s hashes, NCMEC’s platform now contains more than 3.5 million hashes of child sexual abuse imagery.

IWF generates and collates for industry’s use PhotoDNA (pDNA) hashes of child sexual abuse images.

All pDNA hashes owned by the IWF are now available through NCMEC’s platform while continuing to be available direct to IWF Members. IWF also continues to provide hashes in other formats directly to its membership.

Internet companies can have confidence that all the hashes have been verified by the IWF – which is a body independent of government and police – as child sexual abuse material and graded according to internationally-recognised standards.

IWF CEO Susie Hargreaves OBE said: “This will be the biggest quality-assured database of child sexual abuse hashes in the world.

“The IWF-NCMEC collaboration has been inspired by our joint determination to make it as easy as possible to remove child sexual abuse images for the benefit of the victims pictured.

“Child sexual abuse material is a global issue which knows no geographical boundaries. This hash sharing agreement joins up efforts to ensure that the best service is given to victims of sexual abuse, and the best efforts are made by NGOs and internet companies to rid the internet of duplicates of child sexual abuse images.

“We’re thankful to all our Members who fund our work that’s so vital to finding the imagery and creating the hashes which contributes to the broader global efforts protecting victims.”

IWF actively searches the internet for new and duplicate images of child sexual abuse, as well as taking reports from the public, police and internet companies. This means new imagery is found daily. There are currently more than 420,000 unique hashes on the IWF list.

John Clark, president and CEO of NCMEC added: “The expanded partnership and addition of IWF’s hashes to the NCMEC platform is groundbreaking. This will go a long way in ensuring the safety of children around the world.

“Two of the largest organisations working to combat the online sexual abuse of children are joining forces to make sure survivors of this horrific abuse have some peace of mind that there are increasing safeguards in place to reduce the amount of content being circulated online. This agreement is a game-changer and we look forward to other organisations joining the effort to share hashes to combat this global epidemic.”

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