UK expands commitment to fight online child sexual exploitation

The U.K. government this week further expanded its commitment to eradicate child sexual abuse material from the Internet, when Home Secretary Theresa May hosted the first meeting of the new WePROTECT Advisory Board in London.

The board, which I am privileged to be a part of, represents an international coalition of countries, companies and organizations whose vision is to end the sexual exploitation and abuse of children online. The new board was formed after the WePROTECT Children Online Global Summit in Abu Dhabi last November, and is leading an international movement to transform how these abhorrent crimes are prevented, combatted and responded to worldwide. Indeed, the board aims to see more victims identified and rescued, and more perpetrators brought to justice, both largely the result of efforts by global and national law enforcement. Still, all participants in this “multi-stakeholder” model have a role to play to help stop the spread of this vile imagery on the Internet.

“Tackling the heinous crime of online child sexual exploitation is one of the most important issues we face today, and the U.K. continues to drive forward action to tackle this,” the Home Secretary told the board. “However, these crimes cannot be resolved by the U.K. government alone. This is a global problem, and we have to work together to protect our children … I am confident that this global initiative will deliver real change.”

At the Abu Dhabi Summit, 63 countries renewed or signed on to a Statement of Action to help curtail the spread of child sexual abuse material online. That follows a similar commitment by 47 countries at the first WePROTECT Children Online Global Summit in London in late 2014. The board will provide guidance, and encourage best practice-sharing among countries and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as they look to fulfill their summit commitments. The board also will lead and drive global initiatives, and endeavor to enlist more countries, Internet companies, and organizations to this important cause.

Microsoft became aware of the magnitude of these online horrors in 2003, when the Toronto Police Department asked then-CEO Bill Gates for Microsoft’s help. A lead detective was eager to track down purveyors of child sexual abuse material, and to employ technology to help identify and safeguard child victims. Microsoft responded with a $1 million investment, and has since championed numerous other initiatives, focused on technology tools, support for NGOs, as well as content moderation efforts across our own online services. Indeed, it is in our business interest, as well as society’s interest, that we strive for clean services, free of illegal and potentially harmful content.

“Technology offers endless benefits and possibilities to our children, but equally, it empowers the criminal, the corrupt, and the coercive,” said Joanna Shields, U.K. Minister for Internet Safety and Security, and a WePROTECT board member. “This partnership among governments, industry, law enforcement and NGOs is absolutely vital to staying ahead of this vile crime, which goes across borders and can only be ended through global cooperation.”

To learn more about Microsoft’s work in fighting online child sexual exploitation and abuse, download our Building Global Trust Online booklet for Online Safety, and visit the online safety program pages of the YouthSpark Hub, where we regularly add new resources on a host of online safety topics. You can also “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

At the time of writing of this post, Jacqueline Beauchere’s title was Chief Online Safety Officer.