Curbing the surge in online child abuse: The dual role of digital technology in fighting and facilitating its proliferation

Briefing 23-11-2020

The volume of child abuse materials circulating on the internet has increased dramatically during the pandemic, as both children and child sex offenders spend more time, and interact more, online. Enabled by digital technologies, child sex offenders have tapped into opportunities that were previously unavailable to communicate freely and directly with each other and with children, creating online communities where they share their crimes. Today, they can reach children via webcams, connected devices and chat rooms in social media and video games, while remaining anonymous thanks to technologies such as cloud computing, the dark web, end-to-end encryption and streaming. There has been a rise in grooming and sextortion incidents. Conversely, it is again digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and improved online age verification methods or age-appropriate design, which can help to curb the surge of the above crimes. Due to its capacity and speed of analysis, AI could play an important role in tackling the problem and assisting law enforcement in reducing the overwhelming amount of reports that need to be analysed. This is one of two EPRS briefings on the subject of fighting online child abuse. This one looks at technological aspects while the second one will cover legislative and policy issues.