More adults ‘could develop sexual interest in children unless big tech acts now’

A senior British police officer fears more people could develop a sexual interest in children unless the tech industry takes the scale of abuse on their platforms seriously.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey, who is retiring from the police after 35 years, said he believes big social networks are not investing enough in technology to prevent paedophiles from sharing images online.

In his last day as head of Norfolk Constabulary, and following his recent departure from the National Police Chiefs’ Council as lead on child protection, Mr Bailey identified Facebook as the main source of concern, over the firm’s plans to introduce end-to-end encryption which threatens to “turn the lights off”.

“Unless the tech industry starts to take this really seriously, all that we are going to see is the exponential growth in the numbers of images that we are recording, the continuing abuse of children and unfortunately, and I fear this, an ever growing number of people that have a sexual interest in children,” Mr Bailey told the Pier21 conference.

“It is my belief that the tech industry, the big tech companies, are continuing to put profit before safeguarding children.

“They know the sheer scale of what is taking place on their platforms and they are choosing to not do enough about it and not enough money is being invested in the technology, which I believe already exists, to tackle the totality of the threat.

“We know that Facebook, and the evidence is very clear, is already and is identified as the most used platform for the sharing of indecent images and yet we know through their plans to end-to-end encrypt that they are now going to wilfully turn a blind eye to what is taking place on their platforms.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey
Chief Constable Simon Bailey is retiring after 35 years in the police (Norfolk Police/PA)

“Facebook could change those plans but at this moment in time I don’t believe that they are committed to doing that and I think they are taking the view that actually if we can’t see it then we don’t know about it, which means we can’t report it which means we can’t fall foul of the regulators.”

Mr Bailey said the UK has become “world-leading” at targeting online abuse in the last seven years but warned there is still more work to be done, as numbers continue to rise.

The police’s secured Child Abuse Image Database (Caid) has about 20 million unique images of child sexual abuse, which is increasing at a rate of approximately 250,000 every month.

Nine years ago, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre was responsible for coordinating 192 arrests in a year, but now police working in partnership with the National Crime Agency (NCA) are dealing with 850 offenders a month.

The senior British police officer led the Norfolk Constabulary for the last eight years and started working on child protection and abuse investigations for the NPCC in 2014.

He became NPCC lead for violence and public protection in 2016.

A Facebook spokesperson said: “Child exploitation has no place on our platforms and Facebook will continue to lead the industry in developing new ways to prevent, detect and respond to abuse.

“End-to-end encryption is already the leading security technology used by many services to keep people safe from hackers and criminals.

“Its full rollout on our messaging services is a long-term project and we are building strong safety measures into our plans.”