Easy production and sharing drives the spread of child sexual abuse material

Easy production and sharing drives the spread of child sexual abuse material
28 July, 2020 Guest Writer

Easy production and sharing drives the spread of child sexual abuse material

The NetClean Reports repeatedly show that the volume of child sexual abuse material is increasing. Content is shared and stored more easily because of development in technology, social media platforms and because devices have increasingly bigger storage capacity.

According to the surveyed police officers, most cases feature both known and unknown (previously unclassified material). This data is important to capture as it aids our understanding of trends and also how to best aid the work that law enforcement does.

In this blog, Eric Oldenburg, Law Enforcement Liaison for Griffeye, comments on the data in the report, explaining that ease of access and facility to quickly share material is one of the main drivers that makes child sexual abuse material more readily available.

By Eric Oldenburg, Law Enforcement Liaison, North America, Griffeye

Child sexual abuse material is today stored on all possible devices and shared in all sorts of fora on the internet. The nature of sharing information follows the development of technology which throws up new challenges for law enforcement.

The Ease of Sharing Links

Online storage, like cloud storage, presents a different challenge to law enforcement than physical devices do. Sharing a large collection of files on a hard drive, or sharing all images on a phone requires a lot of effort and is difficult to do. Cloud storage, however, makes it possible to share an entire mass of material by just sharing a link on a forum, social media platform or through direct messaging. Duplicates of millions of images can reach more people much quicker than they ever could before. I believe this ease of access and facility to quickly share material is one of the main drivers behind the sharp increase in the spread of child sexual abuse material.

Eric Oldenburg, Law Enforcement Liaison, North America, Griffeye

Slower and more complicated investigations

Cloud storage has also made investigations slower and more complicated. With material on hardware the police can seize and get immediate access to a computer or USB stick. Working to gather information from cloud storage demands that law enforcement identify where the material is located in the world, get a search warrant for that place, and wait for the platform provider to respond and deliver the data in a safe way. This causes delays that makes it more difficult to safeguard victims in a timely manner.

Mobile phones

Mobile phones and mobile apps are other examples of ease of access driving the spread, and also production, of child sexual abuse material. Nearly everyone has a mobile phone, and they are cheap, have good cameras, and feel very private and secure as people always carry them with themselves.

“Nearly everyone has a mobile phone, and they are cheap, have good cameras, and feel very private and secure as people always carry them with themselves.”

Using mobile apps it is also very easy for offenders to access collections of material. I believe that the increasing numbers of mobile phones seen in investigations is also linked to the increase in self- produced material by children and teenagers themselves. Whether they produce material voluntarily or as a result of grooming or extortion, they typically use their mobile phone.

Known images vary depending on investigation

The quantity of child sexual abuse material known at the beginning of an investigation varies widely depending on the type of investigation. For example, on a peer to peer undercover investigation most images and videos will probably be known. On the other hand, in a self-production case, most images will probably be new. Overall though, my experience is that known files typically outweigh new material. The number of known images at the beginning of an investigation is also entirely dependent on the intelligence and databases of known hashes that each law enforcement professional has access to. That is why it is so important to collaborate and share intelligence.

The consequence of not sharing is that law enforcement professionals risk duplicating the efforts of others and wasting time that could be used to identify victims. This is also important to address from a mental health point of view. Working on child sexual abuse investigations, constantly exposed to child sexual abuse material, is psychologically very difficult. Being able to filter out already known material not only reduces risk of duplicating work, it also reduces expo­­-sure and trauma. The less time law enforcement professionals spend looking at unnecessary child sexual abuse material, the longer they will have the mental strength to keep doing the job.