Speech

Securing children's safety in a digital world

Internet Safety Minister Baroness Joanna Shields' address to international delegates attending a two day summit on the WePROTECT initiative

Good afternoon. I want to thank you all for accepting our invitation to participate in the WePROTECT industry event, which is generously hosted today by EY.

Two years ago, the UK and US government’s joined forces to work with leading internet companies to develop breakthrough solutions for protecting children from digital predators. The WeProtect technology alliance has resulted in pioneering new solutions making the Internet safer for children all over the world. And whilst we can’t begin to quantify the numbers of young people who have been saved and protected from these horrific crimes and their perpetrators, we can say one thing for sure – there are a lot of unsung heroes and we commend them and our partners here today for their extraordinary efforts.

But for all of the progress that has been made and the good will engaged, the problem of online child abuse and exploitation continues to grow and evolve in new and ever more challenging ways. Last December, at the WePROTECT Summit in London, Prime Minister David Cameron illustrated this point when he spoke of online child sexual exploitation as, “a major international crime of our age” and describing abuse of children happening on an almost industrial scale, with networks spanning the world and children being abused to order.

Increasingly offenders are using the Internet to interact with children for sexual purposes. This isn’t only about adults grooming children for later contact offline. Today, children are often coerced to produce new sexual images of themselves without ever meeting their abuser. And in some cases, their abuse is being live streamed to paying customers over the Internet.

Tragically, once an image of child abuse is on the Internet, without intervention, it remains there forever, increasing the impact of the abuse that child has suffered. This dreadful crime does not end when and where the image is produced – the child continues to relive the trauma of their abuse as they wonder who might have seen the image and how many more will see it in the future.

Ever faster mobile Internet access and other factors such as anonymous access and payment mechanisms create the alarming likelihood that online abuse will only increase in the future, with more children in more countries being affected.

But these trends are not inevitable. I have seen first hand the transformative power of industry and government coming together to tackle this crime. Before becoming Minister of Internet Safety & Security in the UK, I spent 25 years building leading technology products and services and I believe whole heartedly that the partnership between government and digital innovators is absolutely vital to staying ahead of this vile crime.

For instance, working closely with government, Google and Microsoft have recently made significant progress in removing and eliminating pathways to child sexual abuse images and videos in their search results. As a result of these changes Google has seen an eight-fold reduction in people searching for this material. And both have introduced technology that allows us to find and remove images of child abuse online. You’ll hear more about their efforts later this afternoon.

The WePROTECT industry event last April in London, brought together small business leaders with established industry players leading to the creation of new concepts and tools to protect children from abuse online and exploitation These include the application of image recognition technology to automate and speed up the process of victim identification and the creation of tools to help young people recognise suspicious interactions, to protect themselves from harm and to report perpetrators.

The Prime Minister’s WePROTECT Summit led to an agreement and global statement of action by twenty leading technology companies to tackle this heinous crime, alongside 48 countries and leading international non- profit organisations.

These landmark commitments mandate concrete action to identify and rescue victims, apprehend the perpetrators of this abuse, and remove child abuse images from the Internet.

In particular, the agreement between Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Twitter to take hashes of child sexual abuse images from the Internet Watch Foundation to enable detection and removal of child sexual abuse material from their platforms and services.

The UK is now preparing for a second summit, in Abu Dhabi this November, which will take forward these commitments. And we have put £50 million into the new UNICEF fund that will focus on preventing violence against children, including online sexual exploitation. This is an agenda the UK Government is proud to lead but Government can only do so much. The global nature of the Internet means that we cannot solve the problem of online child sexual exploitation alone – we need to harness the power of innovation, by working with the best minds in the technology industry and pioneering new ways to make the Internet safer for children.

And we must recognise that for every new measure taken, those who want to abuse children will find ways to get round our measures and evade detection and continue offending . To win this battle, we need to be faster, smarter and more innovative than they are and we need your help to build products that detect, deter and deliver solutions that protect our children (full stop).

Which brings us to the reason we are all here today. Today is about new ideas. It’s about building on what you do for your day job and bringing that expertise to bear and applying your knowledge and skill in entirely new ways to find that breakthrough solution that we will all be proud to be a part of. Just as Microsoft has previously designed and shared Photo DNA and Google has developed its video hashing technology, we need to look to the experts we have in this room. Experts in big data, analytics, machine learning, cyber intelligence and all of the great skills that are creating leading platforms, products and services that we use everyday.

The fact that you have joined us for the next two days is testament to the shared desire that the Internet remains a place where kids are safe to explore, learn, dream and create without fear.

By being here, you have joined the coalition of the willing: technology companies who share information and collaborate about how to protect their customers, services, systems and platforms from this vile crime.

We have designed this event to enable everyone here to share and learn from others about cutting edge tools and techniques. We want you to take away new ideas that you can put to use in your own companies and allow that networking and collaboration to fuel your own innovation.

I mentioned earlier that in November the United Arab Emirates, in partnership with the UK, will be hosting a further WePROTECT Summit in Abu Dhabi. There is a huge opportunity for you to join hands with existing partners in the WePROTECT initiative, to announce and launch transformational products and tools that help stop the sexual exploitation of children online. We hope that all of the companies here today will consider attending and making ambitious commitments there.

Ernie Allen, Chairman of WeProtect, former CEO of NCMEC and a fearless protector of children globally for the past 25 years, will speak more about this opportunity tomorrow.

In closing, the scale and severity of this crime demands urgent action by all. We have over 60 people here today – experts who have the potential to make a real impact on the lives of millions of children. With all of the good will and inspiration in this room, we can’t go wrong.

I’m deeply grateful that you decided to join us on this mission. We must give our children the future they deserve. We must secure their safety in the digital world.