UAE authorities see sharp rise in reporting of global online child sexual exploitation

Officials say AI tools are increasingly help to safeguard children

Left to Right - Irakli Beridze, head of The Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute; Iain Drennan, executive director at WeProtect Global Alliance and Dana Humaid, general director of the International Affairs Bureau talk about the role of AI during a session on the safety of children at the 2022 World Government Summit. Pawan Singh / The National
Powered by automated translation

Artificial intelligence tools will play an important role in protecting children from online sexual exploitation and abuse, a summit in Dubai has heard.

AI strategies and tools can help police sift through millions of online sexual images of children to increase prosecutions and protect officers who witness distressing scenes of abuse.

A forum on online child abuse on the sidelines of the World Government Summit in Dubai heard how the United Nations interregional crime and justice research institute was rolling out the AI for Safer Children programme free to countries around the world.

Between 2019 and 2020 there has been a 106 per cent increase in the reporting of child sexual exploitation online
Lt Col Dana Humaid, International Affairs Bureau, UAE Ministry of Interior

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, about 1.8 billion photos are uploaded on the internet every day. Of those, about 720,000 are believed to be illegal images of children.

It creates a mountain of distressing scenes for law enforcement officers to examine to understand whether children are at imminent risk.

Artificial Intelligence software can identify the most serious cases and pass on alerts to the police.

Irakli Beridze, head of the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, said AI and machine learning had huge potential for prosecutions.

“This project will use AI to help combat online sexual activity involving children,” he said

“We want to build a practical global hub, to combine the knowledge of 193 member states and the involvement of about 60 law enforcement agencies.

“AI will become the most dominant technology in the years ahead and no law enforcement agency will be able to operate without it.

“This is a global problem that requires a global response.”

AI for Safer Children will take practical steps to help the prevention, detection and, ultimately, the prosecution of the perpetrators.

The programme has been translated into nine languages, including Arabic.

A huge surge in reports of online child sexual exploitation in recent years has made it difficult for law enforcement to manually examine reports and to follow up on the most vulnerable children.

Iain Drennan is the executive director at WeProtect Global Alliance, a body that works with the UAE to combat online child abuse.

“No single entity can do this on their own, and collaborations with AI can really help in this area,” he said.

“Police need tools to do the job.

“AI can help with operations to deal with the sheer volume of all referrals of child sexual abuse material.

“Companies are providing that data, so law enforcement is saturated with information to filter through.

“AI can help with that as a triage to work through and identify the most urgent cases.

“There are memes or misguided attempts at humour that can get caught up in these reports, so it can filter those.”

Every state in the US is mandated to refer all cases of online child sexual abuse to the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Their latest 2021 report showed 29.3 million referrals, of which 29.1 million were direct from electronic service providers.

“Well-being and morale of the officers involved are also important as this material is damaging,” said Mr Drennan.

“Without psychological support, looking at these images will cause you harm and can be traumatising.

“We want to ensure law enforcement officers only look at these images when they have to, and technology can help with that.”

According to the NCMEC, the number of online child abuse images exploded from 450,000 files in 2004 to more than 45 million files in 2018.

At the same time, the number of reports of URLs containing harmful images has increased from only 3,000 in 1998 to about 18.4 million today.

Lt Col Dana Humaid, director general of the International Affairs Bureau at the UAE Ministry of Interior, said technology has a huge role to play.

“Now we have these technologies in place, it is about using them correctly,” she said.

“AI and technology can be used in an investigation, and a prosecution when it is used properly.

“Between 2019 and 2020 there has been a 106 per cent increase in the reporting of child sexual exploitation online around the world.

“Some of these children are just three months old.

“We need to help law enforcement around the world gain access to this technology so it can be used effectively.”

The World Government Summit 2022 — in pictures

Updated: March 31, 2022, 7:05 AM