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End-to-end encryption hampering ability to identify online child sex offenders, say police

End-to-end encryption news

Police issued a joint statement with the Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) as online child sex abuse cases rise.

The joint statement wanted to highlight the ‘devastating impact End-to-End Encryption may have on the ability to identify sex offenders online and protect children.’

They urged industry partners ‘to recognise their responsibility in protecting children on their platforms and to only implement major platform design choices alongside robust safety systems that safeguard children from online sexual abuse.’

End-to-end encryption keeps chats and messages secure, where only the users communicating can read the messages, preventing third parties from being able to access the cryptographic keys needed to decrypt the conversation.

‘… while there is no doubt that encryption plays an important role in safeguarding privacy, this must be balanced with the importance of safeguarding children online.

‘The VGT is aware of the negative effect that End-to-End Encryption has on the ability of companies and law enforcement agencies to counter the crime of online child sexual exploitation.

‘The VGT encourages industry to respond and consider the following: Only to implement platform design choices, including End-to-End Encryption, at scale alongside robust safety systems that maintain or increase child safety.

‘Where the child user base and risk is high, a proportionate investment and implementation of technically feasible safety solutions is paramount. The abuse will not stop just because companies decide to stop looking.

Detective Inspector Stuart Mills, Manager Intercept and Technology Operations, National Criminal Investigation Group said ‘A considerable amount of work continues to be undertaken in the End-to-End Encryption space. This is another strand to this very broad topic which will continue to have significant impact on the child sexual exploitation and investigation space.’

Read the full joint press statement here.

More information on safety online and prevention of online sexual child abuse follows.

How to spot this offending

  • Meeting on one app, then being encouraged to continue a conversation on a different platform could be an indicator.
  • Inconsistencies with a profile or language, and there might be signs that English is a second language.
  • Introduction of sexualised conversations.
  • The other person may say that their webcam or microphone not working for video calls/chats, so they could be avoiding giving their true identity.

For victims

  • Avoid sending any more images or videos – even if they are threatening you.
  • Remember – once you have complied with their demands there is nothing preventing them targeting you again.
  • If you can, save all the online chat and take screenshots. This is important for making a report to the police, we need all the evidence that you can gather.
  • Block the profile.
  • Report the content to the platform (e.g. Facebook, Snapchat, PornHub) it is on and request the content is removed.
  • Make a report to Police (via 105) or Netsafe to find out what other options are available to you.

For parents and caregivers

  • Supervision is essential. This means knowing what your children are doing online, who they are interacting with and what platforms, apps or games they are using.
  • Having open conversations, often. The most important tip we can give any parent or carer is to start talking to your child about their online activities.
  • Check privacy settings. We recommend parents and carers research and understand app settings, including privacy settings. This could include turning off location settings, setting profiles to private, or turning off chat functions.
  • Be approachable if your child needs help. Coming forward isn’t always easy, and children may feel reluctant to tell you about online issues if they believe they will be punished or have their devices taken away. They must know that it is ok to speak to you or any other trusted adult if something doesn’t feel right.
  • Long term impact. Offenders will often use tactics such as fear or shame to manipulate young people, and make them feel alienated or trapped, like they cannot escape the situation. These situations can be very distressing and can have long term-impacts, and need to be addressed appropriately. Your child is a victim of online child sexual exploitation, and they need your support.
  • Report suspicious behaviour. Seek help and support, and report inappropriate or suspicious behaviour online.

Where to report offending

  • New Zealand Police: 105 (non-Emergency). 111 (Emergency)
  • Netsafe: Text ‘Netsafe’ to 4282. Email: help@netsafe.org.nz(link sends e-mail). Call toll free on 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723). Online report form at netsafe.org.nz/report. The Netsafe helpline is open from 8am – 8pm Monday to Friday and 9am – 5pm on weekends.

Image credit: Pixabay

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  1. Yep, far better than the f***ing disinformation project. And good job with the methamphetamine. That causes do much harm.


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