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New taskforce formed to prevent the most serious child sexual abuse from being shared online

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A new taskforce trained to categorise the most severe child sexual abuse images and videos has been assembled to prevent them from being shared on social media and other internet platforms.

The seven analysts will work for charity the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to classify two million Category A and B images from the UK Government’s Child Abuse Image Database – the more serious categories of abuse imagery.

They will view and create hashes for the pictures: unique digital fingerprints consisting of an alphanumeric string of characters that are shared with tech companies to identify the images and prevent their wider distribution on the likes of Facebook, TikTok and Google.

The IWF estimates it will take the team, the hiring of which has been funded by child protection organisation Thorn, around two years to hash all of the images and videos in the Government’s database.

“The taskforce will work four hours a day, which is the maximum amout of time we’d want anyone exposed to that sort of content for, to grade, tag and hash the images gathered by UK law enforcement,” Chris Hughes, the IWF’s hotline director, said.

“Not only are they grading the images, but enriching the metadata through lots of tags to provide a better understanding of what’s happening in the images,” he told i.

“Creating hashes means we can share the text string with the tech industry and not the actual criminal image, which also protects the victim.”

The IWF dealt with a record number of reports of child sexual abuse during 2020, processing 299,600 reports compared to 260,400 the previous year – an increase of 15 per cent.

Susie Hargreaves, chief executive of the IWF, said the new team’s work would be essential to preventing wider distribution of the most serious instances of child sexual abuse content online, calling its foundation “a major step forward for internet safety”.

“Not only will this absolutely vital work help to create a safer internet for us all, but it will help those victims whose sexual abuse imagery is shared time and time again, preventing their continued revictimisation and exploitation,” she said.

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