UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced Monday that the Conservative government was planning a major crackdown on child abuse online, and said that tech giants must do more to combat the problem.
In a speech made at the London headquarters of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), Javid said it was his “personal mission” to tackle crimes such as online grooming and live-streaming of sexual acts on minors.
“The growth of the internet has given potential offenders who previously may have had no access to children the opportunity to meet and groom and abuse victims online on gaming sites and on social media and to get access to more abuse material than ever before,” he said.
The Home Secretary also also accused large internet companies of being “a long way from where they need to be.”
“Restrictions that are supposed to keep our children safe online are either not being enforced or do not meet expectations,” he said. “I am not just asking for change, I am demanding it.”
Javid’s comments came in the wake of a National Crime Agency announcement that it had received 82,109 individual industry referrals for online child sex abuse, a rise of 700% since 2012.
Javid told the NSPCC that people were live-streaming abuse for as little as £12 ($15.4), even choosing the hair color and other characteristics of their victims. Live-streamed child sexual abuse was on the rise “thanks to increasing internet speeds, smart phone technology and the growing ease of which money transfers across borders,” Javid said.
“Poor and desperate families in countries like the Philippines are being targeted by organized criminal gangs to allow their children to be abused on webcams in exchange for money.”
Since 2015 the UK government had nearly doubled the number of officers in the NCA dedicated to tackling online child sexual exploitation.
In February, prolific offender Matthew Falder, who had preyed on 200 victims, was jailed for 32 years. The NCA said in one week recently, 130 people were caught, including ex-police officers and teachers.
The measures outlined by Javid include obliging technology companies to block child sexual abuse material as soon as they detect it, stop child grooming taking place on their platforms and shut down live-streamed child abuse.
He announced the UK government and Microsoft are to convene a meeting of industry experts in November to “challenge companies to work together to come up with tools to detect online child grooming which will then be offered for free to other companies.”
In addition the UK government pledged an extra £21 million ($27.1 million) over the next 18 months to bolster the response of law enforcement agencies to these types of crimes and a further £2.6 million to collaborate with child protection organizations to improve understanding of offender behavior and prevent future offending.
Javid said his government will set out its plans for legislation in a forthcoming Online Harms White Paper.