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Home Office invests in tech to fight child abuse



Department joins Canadian led Project Arachnid to speed up identification and removal of illegal content

The Home Office has invested in a new technology for internet companies to identify and remove indecent images of children from websites at a much faster rate than previously possible.

It has put £600,000 into Project Arachnid, which is being developed by the Canadian reporting service CyberTipline, part of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

The software can be deployed across websites, forums, chat services and newsgroups to instantaneously detect illegal content, before sending a take-down notice to service providers so they can quickly protect children from further exploitation.

Project Arachnid uses lists of digital fingerprints (hashes) to search for known illegal images and issue removal notices to the websites that host them, to ensure all instances of these images are removed from the open web.

There are plans for it to expand to include hashes supplied by the Canadian CyberTipline and the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; which should mean the number of images it can identify will be in the hundreds of thousands.

The Home Office said this will boost ongoing efforts by government, law enforcement agencies and NGOs to safeguard children against online sexual exploitation.

It added that social media companies will be able to plug Project Arachnid into their systems to identify and flag for removal indecent imagery, even in closed environments that only users and the company can see.

Industry applause

The move has been applauded by IT industry association techUK. Its deputy chief executive officer, Antony Walker, said: “The home secretary rightly recognised the importance of engaging with tech companies to combat online extremism, paedophilia and other crimes. These are complex issues and we must all – governments, security agencies, law enforcement, policy makers and wider civil society bodies – work together to fight the abuse of the online world.  

“The responsibilities of the tech sector must also go hand in hand with work offline to protect people online. The home secretary was right to note the importance of parents understanding more about what their children do online, and how to protect them from harm…. The sector looks forward to working with the Home Office, and other departments, including DCMS and Education, to help parents to get up to speed with the rapidly changing world the next generation inhabits.”

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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