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Tech Companies Are Leading The Fight Against Child Porn While The FBI And DOJ Complain About Encryption Helping Child Abusers

from the get-a-clue-[cough]-gentlemen dept

We hear so much from law enforcement agencies about how much tech companies -- and their encryption offerings -- are turning America into a lawless frontier where the criminals always win and the cops are eternally hamstrung. We mainly hear this from two law enforcement agencies in particular: the FBI and the DOJ.

Local cops seem to be doing just fine, but outside of Manhattan blowhard/DA Cy Vance, everyone seems to feel a rising tech tide lifts all cop boats. But these agencies insist we're "going dark." And they insist tech companies are screwing both cops and the public by allowing users to protect their communications and devices from criminals and snoopers alike, even if it means things are ever-so-slightly more difficult for criminal investigators.

But these arguments are being made using facts not in evidence. Tech companies do care about crime, public safety, law enforcement's concerns, and the general insecurity of having devices filled with personal info being carried around by the vast majority of the American public. And tech companies are doing far more to address all of these concerns (rather than just the law enforcement concerns touted by the FBI, et al) than the federales are willing to admit.

First off, tech companies are engaging in the "adult conversation" about lawful access. They're just doing it in a way the government doesn't like. They're approaching this with caution and concern, while the FBI and DOJ dishonestly claim the only "real" solution is unfettered, on-demand access to devices and communications.

White papers have been written. Honest discussions have been had. But these are ignored because they don't offer the "absolutist" options federal agencies desire. It's the DOJ and FBI who are engaging in the equivalent of kicking and screaming while ignoring the real adults in the room.

More evidence that tech companies are doing more to help than to hurt is rolling in. Casey Newton reports for The Verge that the fight against child sexual abuse is being lead by tech companies, and that law enforcement agencies are the beneficiaries of their contributions.

An example from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children drove the point home. The organization has long operated a tipline in which people can report coming across child pornography and other incidents of abuse. In the late 1990s, the tipline received 200 to 300 reports per week, said Michelle DeLaune, NCMEC’s chief operating officer. But as the internet gained adoption, and platforms began collaborating with the organization, reports to the tipline exploded. In 2018, NCMEC received more than 18 million reports of exploitative imagery.

Strikingly, 99 percent of those reports come directly from the tech platforms. Through the use of artificial intelligence, hashed images, and partnerships between companies, we’re now arguably much better informed about the scope and spread of these images — and are better equipped to catch abusers.

Notably, these reports originate from communications platforms the DOJ and FBI have complained about.

A Facebook executive says that the company bans a whopping 250,000 WhatsApp accounts a month for sharing child exploitation imagery.

The implication that tech companies are doing nothing to respond to and to prevent criminal activities are, to put it politely, horseshit. These federal agencies have a vested interest in portraying tech companies as villains presiding over an internet Wild West. They want favorable court precedent and legislation.

As tech companies appear villainous -- something not helped by their numerous appearances in front of Congressional committees -- all branches of the government are more likely to screw tech companies into behaving as extensions of the federal government. This screws users and customers as well as the companies they use, but no price is too high to pay… as long as it's paid by others.

Filed Under: backdoors, encryption, going dark, law enforcement


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Sep 2019 @ 9:31am

    If law enforcement wants to have a serious discussion about crime, perhaps they should clean up their own backyard beforehand.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 20 Sep 2019 @ 9:31am

    Think of the children!

    FBI and DOJ complain that curtains and locked doors are helping child abusers. They suggest we should ban both.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 20 Sep 2019 @ 9:42am

    Those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    U. R. Blind, 20 Sep 2019 @ 9:42am

    Tech Companies Are Providing The Delivery Systems of Child Porn

    The FBI And DOJ are NOT helping. -- At least not visibly, though as Epstein scandals show, are in fact knowingly key to letting predators escape justice.

    But your perspective as ever is childish awe of "Tech Companies" without ever recognizing their inherent complicity in facilitating crimes -- such as Cloudflare shielding pirates, Facebook hosting child porn, and GOOGLE allowing it to be found.

    And NO, they're not simple physical systems like roads, but their whole business model is based on examining the data that passes through and identifying WHO is doing it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 20 Sep 2019 @ 9:45am

      If you can offer proof that shows how Cloudflare, Facebook, and Google knowingly and intentionally facilitate both the creation and the sharing of child pornography, now would be the time to do it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Gary (profile), 20 Sep 2019 @ 10:04am

        Re:

        If you can offer proof

        Blue Balls can't offer proof of "Common Law" or a million other things. How can he "Prove" Goggle produces child porn when he can't tie his shoes without assistance?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Sep 2019 @ 11:04am

        Re:

        Trolls hardly ever support their claims with facts.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 26 Sep 2019 @ 1:01am

        Re:

        "If you can offer proof that shows how Cloudflare, Facebook, and Google knowingly and intentionally facilitate both the creation and the sharing of child pornography, now would be the time to do it."

        Everyone around here knows by now that inviting Blue/Baghdad Bob/Bobmail to "prove" anything won't work. He's not interested in debates.

        And this is especially true since he really doesn't give a rat's ass about CP, using it only because the mechanisms he wants instituted can and will be used to facilitate copyright enforcement even if they're useless to actually combat CP production or propagation. Or so he believes.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Sep 2019 @ 10:26am

      Re: Tech Companies Are Providing The Delivery Systems of Child P

      but their whole business model is based on examining the data that passes through and identifying WHO is doing it.

      A significant correction to your statement. Their business model is reliant on algorithms analysing data passing through, and unlike a human an algorithm has no interest or ability to identify anything it has not been programmed or taught to recognize. Also, algorithms are very prone to over or under identifying whatever they are meant to be looking for.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rocky, 20 Sep 2019 @ 10:54am

      Re: Tech Companies Are Providing The Delivery Systems of Child P

      Do you ever stop and think about what you post?

      Because your argument above shows a severe dichotomy in your thinking.

      If any of the companies mentioned DIDN'T examine the data (regardless of what we think of the practice itself) the number of cases of child porn detected would drop several magnitudes which would also mean we wouldn't be able to find and rescue those children and jail the perpetrators.

      So the choice is, don't analyze and let the criminals run free OR analyze to find them.

      What do you choose?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Sep 2019 @ 7:26pm

        Re: Re:

        That foul stench you now smell is the scent of a bowl of microwaveable tapioca, which blue uses in place of a functioning brain, starting to cook itself from a logic bomb.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Dave P., 21 Sep 2019 @ 10:15am

      Re: Tech Companies Are Providing The Delivery Systems of Child P

      Ha! Might have known ol' BB would bring the word(s) "pirate(s)" into it somewhere. Just can't help his befuddled excuse for a brain, can he?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 26 Sep 2019 @ 1:09am

        Re: Re: Tech Companies Are Providing The Delivery Systems of Chi

        "Might have known ol' BB would bring the word(s) "pirate(s)" into it somewhere. Just can't help his befuddled excuse for a brain, can he?"

        Blue/Baghdad Bob has been trying to resurrect the old CP == Pirates assumption ever since his early "Bobmail" days on Torrentfreak. It's that one tell which more than anything else indicates his vested interest in copyright enforcement and maximalism is at the point where it's become redundant to accuse him of astroturfing for the MPAA.

        Not like we didn't expect him to toss a stale wordsallad containing the keywords of "tech", "google", "CP" and "Pirates" at every thread containing the relevant key words.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 20 Sep 2019 @ 10:06am

    'Doesn't make us look good so it doesn't count.'

    Ah, but you see with the platforms addressing the problem directly, both in taking the content down and reporting it to the relevant agency that cuts the likes of the DOJ and FBI right out of the loop, and removes their chance to brag and boast about how much they are doing, and as such it simply doesn't count.

    Only actions that allow the DOJ/FBI to get the legal precedent they want and/or allow them to look good for Doing Something are to be considered valid and worth noting, anything else will be ignored or used against the company in question.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Sep 2019 @ 10:47am

    A Facebook executive says that the company bans a whopping 250,000 WhatsApp accounts a month for sharing child exploitation imagery.

    Here I thought WhatsApp was encrypted end-to-end.

    Presumably yer pedos are not turning each other in at that kind of rate. And presumably a quarter of a million a month aren't just accidentally sending that stuff to the wrong person or group.

    So inquiring minds want to know how Facebook/WhatsApp knows what they're sharing... and what else they're spying on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Sep 2019 @ 10:59am

    Child porn Is a overblown issue

    Like so called human trafficking, the amount of it and statistics about it are all made up by anti-porn authoritarian groups and politicians who use it to advance their power.
    Actual cp is so deeply hidden in the darkweb you have to try hard to find it, and even then it's mostly honeypots by FBI/EU sting operations. Same with the tiny few that are supposedly forced into prostitution, which are such small in number in reality that you don't need any extra laws besides the ones already on the books.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Sep 2019 @ 12:07pm

      Re: Child porn Is a overblown issue

      We should also ask whether taking down pictures prevents abuse. Is there evidence, or is it based on feelings?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 23 Sep 2019 @ 5:25am

        Re: Re: Child porn Is a overblown issue

        Taking down pictures serves two purposes:

        1) the picture can't be shared around any more
        2) protecting the victim from future embarrassment

        Consider the adult entertainment world, if you will; are you satisfied with your existing collection / sites, etc., or are you always on the lookout for more interesting fare / new faces (as it were)? Don't you find that your usual haunts get a bit old after a while, and you want to see something new? That attitude is not confined to the adult stuff.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Sep 2019 @ 7:58am

          Re: Re: Re: Child porn Is a overblown issue

          2) protecting the victim from future embarrassment

          But only in this one case, and regardless of whether the person wants protection or feels embarrassed. America has never accepted this idea anywhere else. If you're 1 day away from turning 18, you're protected—from certain types of pictures. If your parents put embarassing pictures up, but they're not "porn" (this line can get blurry especially when nudity's involved), there's nothing you can do. If it's a picture of you being a victim of any other crime, like murder or robbery, nothing can be done. The same if you're the perpetrator—other countries do make it illegal to release the names of child criminals, but not the USA (even if the cops and courts can't do it).

          Don't you find that your usual haunts get a bit old after a while, and you want to see something new? That attitude is not confined to the adult stuff.

          It's not at all obvious that limiting the number of pictures will reduce crime (excepting the criminality of possession). As I recall, the availability of "the adult stuff" was correlated with reductions in sex crime.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 24 Sep 2019 @ 3:33am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Child porn Is a overblown issue

            I'm talking about the nasty stuff, not the innocent kid-in-the-tub-type photos that get mislabeled.

            Sexual predators prey; they get off on wielding power over their victims. I therefore find it hard to believe that videos or images alone would satisfy that desire.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 26 Sep 2019 @ 1:17am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Child porn Is a overblown issue

              "I'm talking about the nasty stuff, not the innocent kid-in-the-tub-type photos that get mislabeled."

              Sadly there is, in all too many jurisdictions, no differentiation by now.

              In some jurisdictions, Sweden, for instance, if you as an adult possess pictures of your current s.o., taken at a time when both of you were under 18, then there's a clear danger that either of you could be charged for a CP offense.

              Meanwhile it's quite legal for one partner to be 60 and the other 16, as long as there is consent and you don't take photos.

              I'm all for effective laws preventing abuse but what is currently on the tablets isn't it. If anything the current state of legislations just ensures actual abusers are heavily assisted by current laws encouraging witnesses to forget they ever saw anything, out of fear of being implicated. A "chilling effect" more repulsive than any I've seen so far.

              In the eyes of legislators burying a festering eyesore where only perpetrators and victims can see it is apparently a "win".

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 20 Sep 2019 @ 11:03am

    FBI/CIA/DOJ/.... And other Gov. agencies.

    Have long used the old system to backdoor people..
    There are over 40 different Policing agencies and probably a few we dont know. that have used the older phone system and other devices/sources to monitor people.. Even illegally.

    there is something about the law that is interesting..Just cause doing it is illegal, dont mean they CANT use it internally to help monitor you Otherwise.. Listen to phone calls, and then get a warrant for the MALL you are going to.

    the most fun you will find is the Corp ideals, that Every thing is in Private, you signed a contract you cant say anything.. And for some reason that even goes against Federal laws. Once you sign that contract to 'Shutup' you cant report the corps for anything. you will end up in court, just to protect the contract for you to SHUT UP..

    Corps get more Privacy then any citizen. And accordingly, To show How you got information you have to show all the Trails you walked to GET what you have..to Prove the Problem...

    Back to subject...
    HOw many groups would make Apps for the gov? most. But the creators DONT WANT TO GOTO COURT.. Its not to hard to have a device and monitor it, and what its doing.. and there are groups that do that also.. Including AV/ANTIBOT/... programs. Even some routers have that ability to Watch for when 1 device connects and does something.
    Its a battle between those that control your phone, and WHO can do what to your phone, and HOW to hide what they are doing.
    Both apple and google have removed Apps because of this.
    Wake up in morning, and your phone on the charger is almost Dead?? cause it did TONS of crap in the middle of the night??

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Sep 2019 @ 11:13am

      Re: FBI/CIA/DOJ/.... And other Gov. agencies.

      That is why we need to fight for control of our own devices, open software and open hardware.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Sep 2019 @ 3:40am

    If law enforcement et al really cared about child abuse

    they would have taken much better care of Epstein.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 23 Sep 2019 @ 5:26am

      Re: If law enforcement et al really cared about child abuse

      Perverse incentives; are they being paid for "results" or for actually upholding the law?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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