Technology companies need a revolution in how they deal with online child abuse to allow law enforcement to catch the worst paedophiles, the head of the National Crime Agency (NCA) has said.
Lynne Owens called on the industry to work more closely with the authorities to stop crimes including the live streaming of sexual abuse.
She said some online networks ask sex offenders to abuse a child in order to be allowed access to more obscene images, and infants as young as six months have been targeted as a result.
In a speech in central London, the NCA director general said: “Our proposition to industry is you have got to do so much more about those sites that you’ve personally got access to, because that will then enable us to really focus on the very high harm offenders that are causing contact offending with children.”
The number of referrals of child abuse images to the NCA was 8.5 times greater this year than in 2013.
The cases come from a US body to which technology firms are obliged to report suspected illegal images.
The NCA said that of nearly 2.9 million accounts registered on the worst child sexual abuse sites on the dark web worldwide, around 5% – about 140,000 – were from the UK.
Ms Owens said: “Technology already exists to design out a lot of the preventable offending. Industry must block child abuse images upon detection, and do more to prevent online grooming.
“It must work with us to stop live streaming of child abuse. It must do more to stop its platforms being used to advertise services, whether that be of people smugglers or to facilitate sexual exploitation.
“It must be more open and share best practice. In short, it must do more and it must do it quicker.
“There is the need for nothing less than a revolution in the way that technology companies rise to this challenge.”
Peter Wanless from the NSPCC said technology companies should adopt a mandatory duty of care for children using the internet.
He said: “There should be no need for industry to await legislation to enact the recently released online harms white paper.
“If major companies adopted now a mandatory duty of care for young people using their sites, many children would be safer and law enforcement’s job would be easier.”
Mr Wanless called on the Government to introduce safety standards for social networks to protect children.
He said: “The Government must be forced to act, and to act fast. They need to step up and ensure fundamental child protection is designed into the online world.
“Things that our children come into contact with daily such as food, toys, clothes, are all expected to meet high safety standards that let us know children are safe to use them, and the same must apply to social networks.”