#MSFTCOSO POV: UK leads world in fight against online child sexual abuse material

Dec 17, 2014   |   Microsoft Corporate Blogs

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is leading a global charge to stamp out child sexual abuse material (CSAM) online, dedicating funding, resources and a personal passion to the effort.

Last week in London, the prime minister held the first-ever global summit entitled “#WePROTECT Children Online,” designed to seek coordinated global action, explore technological solutions and create an international network to protect children from online sexual exploitation. The Summit brought together representatives from more than 50 countries, 26 technology companies, 10 non-governmental organizations and a host of law enforcement agencies to pledge their ongoing support.

“[A] global gathering like this is long overdue,” the prime minister said in his keynote address. “We have international summits to stamp out drug dealing, to beat modern-day slavery, and this is another major international crime of our age.”

Concrete, tangible outcomes were demanded, and the U.K. government stepped up to lead and deliver on that mandate in a big way. To assist with the plight of child victims, the U.K. government is putting 50 million pounds, over the course of five years, into a new fund to be managed by UNICEF. The fund will help identify, rescue and aid child victims as they seek to rebuild their lives following unspeakable physical, mental and emotional trauma. In a separate 10 million pound effort, the U.K. government will increase the number of specialist crimefighters within the U.K.’s National Crime Agency, being that law enforcement resources and highly trained personnel have long been in short supply to combat these particularly heinous crimes. The prime minister also announced pending changes to U.K. law that would make it a criminal offense to send a sexual communication to a child.

“If you ask a child to take their clothes off and send you a picture, you are as guilty as if you did that in person,” Cameron said. “Just as it is illegal to produce and possess images of child abuse, now we’re making it illegal for an adult to send a sexual communication to a child. This law will make it clear this is a crime and you will be arrested and prosecuted if you take part in it.”

I had the honor of representing Microsoft at the global summit and delivering an address that summarized the company’s ongoing and longstanding commitment to protecting children — and, indeed, all individuals — as they live out their digital lives. I noted that Microsoft approaches online safety and child online protection with four key areas in mind: technology, self-governance, education and partnerships.

First and foremost, we’re a technology company, and we have a responsibility to seek to create software, devices and services that have safety features, functionality and considerations built in from the outset. In addition, we devise and implement internal online safety policies, standards and procedures that extend beyond pure legal requirements in an effort to self-govern product development and operations. We also have a responsibility to stay abreast of the risks that individuals and families may face online; alert consumers to such developments and educate them about how they can help protect themselves and their families. Perhaps most importantly, we embrace a “multi-stakeholder” model, and partner with others because no one entity or organization can successfully tackle these significant and nuanced issues alone.

I recounted that Microsoft first came to understand the magnitude of the online horror that is child sexual exploitation (sometimes misguidedly referred to as “child pornography”) in 2003, when a lead detective with the Toronto Police Department sent an email to our then-CEO Bill Gates. The detective asked for help from technology to track down purveyors of child sexual abuse material and for assistance with his goal of rescuing child victims. After years of witnessing and experiencing the challenges that child advocates, law enforcement and the technology industry faced in their efforts to stem the online flow of CSAM, Microsoft was privileged to work with the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and Dartmouth College to help address the problem. In 2009, Microsoft and Dartmouth developed PhotoDNA, a technology that aids in finding and removing from the Internet some of the “worst of the worst” of these images. We donated PhotoDNA to NCMEC that same year, and now license it for free to 45 international organizations — all playing a role in helping to rid the Web of this vile imagery.

I also hinted at some upcoming developments with respect to technology, an ongoing technology partnership pilot, research and awareness-raising. More on these in due course.

As I did in my formal remarks at the event, I thank and applaud the U.K. government for shining a bright, global spotlight on a dark and serious issue and for highlighting the gravity of not just online child exploitation, but the need for the online protection of children and our global society at large. We need to continue to work together to find new and inventive ways to bring attention to these issues; to stop the spread of this abhorrent content; to rescue child victims and to prosecute perpetrators.

For more on Microsoft’s work in Online Safety and Child Online Protection, visit our Safety & Security Center; “like” us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter, and look for my “point of view” following the #MSFTCOSO hashtag.

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