US watchdog sees four-fold increase in online child abuse reports

Online child abuse images are on the rise in the US after a watchdog warned of an unprecedented rise in the number of reports linked to inappropriate images involving children being posted online.

Related: Thousands of paedophiles using the dark net, as online child abuse contnues to grow

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children [NCMEC] saw a record number of reports during the opening week of July that equated to four times the weekly average.

Since 1998 all electronic communications providers have had to report any type of child abuse on their networks to the Cyber Tipline run by the NCMEC and this includes the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, which are all based in the US.

It’s this service that saw 92,800 reports between 29 June and 5 July and 91,334 of them came from Internet firms with the remainder comprised of anonymous tip-offs from members of the public. In an average week, however, it receives just 15,000 reports and even though John Shehan, executive director of NCMEC’s Exploited Children Division, did state that it could be anomaly, the increased use of social networks is a worry.

"You wouldn't think someone would do it on Pinterest or LinkedIn," Mr Shehan told the BBC. "But any type of platform that allows people to post images for videos - they get used for the wrong reasons."

The UK is one of 62 countries that work closely with the NCMEC to stamp out online child abuse and Shehan thinks that the increased use of mainstream social media channels has much to do with the increased uptake of the Internet in emerging countries.

"If you look at where the content is being uploaded from - sometimes we see that it goes back to third-world countries. Some of these are just starting to get high-speed Internet access, and they may not be as sophisticated as some countries in using different anonymisers," he added.

There is no law in the UK that forces UK communications firms to inform the Cyber Tipline or a comparable service, and the National Crime Agency [NCA] explained that this is due to the smaller size of the UK’s Internet industry. The Internet Watch Foundation [IWF], which is based in the UK and targets illegal content, agreed that a US-style law isn’t needed as UK law is working well.

"Due to the cooperation we have with the online industry in the UK less than 1% of child sexual abuse imagery is hosted here, down from 18% in 1996," said Susie Hargreaves, the IWF's chief executive.

Related: Web firms head to No.10 amid concerns about child abuse online

Earlier this week the NCA detained 660 suspected paedophiles for distributing child abuse images online and many of those arrested didn’t have any history with the Police with only a small number of registered sex offenders a part of the operation.

Image Credit: Flickr (Chris Dlugosz)