• April 13, 2024
 UK and US pledge to combat AI-generated images of child abuse

UK and US pledge to combat AI-generated images of child abuse

The US and UK have committed to developing and funding new capabilities to stop the spread of sexually exploitative AI-generated images of children.

The UK and US have united to combat the rise of child sexual abuse images generated by Artificial Intelligence (AI) programmes.

The Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, along with the US Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, have committed to exploring further joint action to tackle the alarming rise in AI-generated images of children being sexually exploited by paedophiles.

The two countries have issued a joint statement pledging to work together to innovate and explore the development of new solutions to fight the spread of this imagery. They have called on other nations to join them.

It comes during the Home Secretary’s visit to Washington this week. Suella Braverman visited the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the US-based child protection organisation whose work includes reporting online child sexual abuse cases to global law enforcement agencies.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said:

“Child sexual abuse is a truly abhorrent crime and one of the challenges of our age. Its proliferation online does not respect borders and must be combatted across the globe.

That is why we are working to tackle the sickening rise of AI-generated child sexual abuse imagery which incites paedophiles to commit more offences and also obstructs law enforcement from finding real victims online.

It is therefore vital we work hand-in-glove with our close partners in the US to tackle it. I commend the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), who work tirelessly to keep children safe around the world. Social media companies must take responsibility and prioritise child safety on their platforms.”

Investigations by the Internet Watch Foundation have found that AI-generated images of children being abused (including babies and toddlers) are growing, with some depicting the worst kind of offending under UK and US law. The organisation has also uncovered an online ‘manual’ dedicated to helping offenders refine their prompts and train AI to return more and more realistic results.

The rise is concerning, with law enforcement agencies and charities convinced an increase in child sexual abuse material will fuel a normalisation of offending and lead to more children being targeted.

The surge in AI-generated images could also slow law enforcement agencies from tracking down and identifying victims of child sexual abuse and also detecting offenders and bringing them to justice.

In addition, some AI technologies provide offenders with the capability to create new pictures from benign imagery. As an example, there is a a process known as inpainting, which enables offenders to remove articles of clothing completely or swap someone’s face into indecent images of real children.

The Home Secretary’s visit comes a week after launching a campaign calling on Meta not to roll out end-to-end encryption on its platforms without robust safety measures that ensure children are protected from sexual abuse and exploitation in messaging channels.

Currently, 800 predators a month are arrested by UK law enforcement agencies and up to 1,200 children are safeguarded from child sexual abuse following information provided by social media companies. If Meta proceeds with its plans, it will no longer be able to detect child abuse on their platforms. The National Crime Agency (NCA) estimates 92% of Facebook Messenger and 85% of Instagram Direct referrals could be lost, meaning thousands of criminals a year could go undetected.

The partnership with the US also follows the Online Safety Bill’s passage through Parliament last week.

AI-generated child sexual exploitation and abuse content is illegal, regardless of whether it depicts a real child or not. Under the government’s landmark bill, tech companies will be required to proactively identify content and remove it. The bill is deliberately tech-neutral, to ensure it keeps pace with emerging technologies like AI. Services will have a duty to stop the spread of illegal content such as child sexual abuse, terrorist material and fraud. Ofcom will have the power to direct companies to either use, or make best efforts to develop or source, technology to identify and remove Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (CSEA) content.

The government is also undertaking work to deepen their understanding of the risks posed by AI and subsequently develop solutions. This includes creating the AI Taskforce and hosting the first global AI Safety Summit this autumn.

Whilst foundation model AIs undoubtedly hold vast potential and are crucial to the UK’s mission to become a science and tech superpower, and a leader in safe and responsible AI, there are still many unknowns with this class of technology, which pose significant but not yet fully understood public safety and national security risks.

Rebecca Morgan, Editor

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