Bill Harmon, Associate General Counsel, Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit
The scale of the online child pornography problem and the amount of data associated with these types of investigations is massive. This is why we are proud to announce that we are partnering with NetClean to make our Microsoft PhotoDNA image matching technology available to law enforcement at no cost to help enhance their child sex abuse investigations – empowering them to more efficiently identify and rescue victims and bring abusers to justice.
Since 2002, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) has reviewed more than 65 million images and videos of child sexual exploitation reported by law enforcement. The images continue to grow increasingly violent and the victims younger, with 10 percent of the images reviewed by NCMEC today being infants and toddlers who can’t tell anyone about their abuse. When child pornography images are shared and viewed amongst predators online, it is not simply the distribution of objectionable content – it is community rape of a child. These crimes turn a single horrific moment of sexual abuse of a child into an unending series of violations of that child. We simply cannot allow people to continue trading these horrifying images online when we have the technology to help do something about it. Microsoft is proud to make PhotoDNA available to law enforcement, to help in their battle to quickly identify and rescue these children.
PhotoDNA is an image-matching technology developed by Microsoft Research in collaboration with Dartmouth College. It creates a unique signature for a digital image, something like a fingerprint, which can be compared with the signatures of other images to find copies of that image. NCMEC and online service providers such as Microsoft and Facebook currently use PhotoDNA to help find, report and eliminate some of the worst known images of child pornography online, helping identify thousands of these horrific images that would previously have gone undetected.
By arming law enforcement with this powerful technology, our goal is to help expedite investigations, limit officer exposure to the corrosive effects of viewing child rape images, and strengthen law enforcement’s ability to quickly identify and rescue victims and get child abusers off the street.
Although initially designed for use by online service providers, law enforcement globally voiced interest in the use of PhotoDNA in child sexual exploitation investigations since the introduction of PhotoDNA in December 2009. Based on the expressed need, Microsoft and NetClean worked together to make PhotoDNA available to law enforcement worldwide through tools that many agencies already use.
PhotoDNA will be available to law enforcement at no charge via:
- NetClean Analyze. PhotoDNA is being made available through a new version of NetClean Analyze, a free technology already used by law enforcement in many countries worldwide. The new version will also include functionality to support connections between NetClean Analyze and the Child Exploitation Tracking System (CETS) where appropriate.
- The Child Exploitation Tracking System (CETS). PhotoDNA is being integrated into CETS, a collaborative global law enforcement program supported by Microsoft technology for child pornography investigations. CETS helps law enforcement agencies follow hundreds of suspects at a time and eliminate duplication, making it more efficient for the agencies to follow up on leads, collect evidence and build cases against suspected child pornographers. CETS is currently used by agencies in Australia, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States.
- Direct licensing. Certain law enforcement agencies with the technical capacity and resources required to manage PhotoDNA source code integration themselves can license the technology directly for use in child sexual exploitation investigations. At this time, the Netherlands Forensics Institute and the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs have licensed the PhotoDNA source code.
Although this milestone is the first step in making PhotoDNA available to law enforcement, the fight doesn’t end here – more work needs to be done to stamp out the problem and make the online world a hostile place for sexual abusers of children to hide. While the responsibility for finding and arresting the criminals who exploit and abuse children rests with law enforcement, all parts of society, including the private sector and companies like Microsoft, have an obligation to work together to help protect children and eliminate child pornography.
Everyone can do their part to fight this problem by demanding that the online service providers they use act responsibly. Without innovation and public demand for technology companies and online services to play a more productive and proactive role in the fight against online child exploitation, the technological advantage will remain with the abusers of our children rather than with those working to protect them.
To stay up-to-date on the latest developments on the fight against child sexual exploitation and other forms of cybercrime, please visit http://www.microsoft.com/dcu or follow the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit on Facebook and Twitter.