Internet giants should re-invest some of their “eye-watering” profits into efforts to stamp out child abuse images online, a chief constable has said.
Mike Barton challenged firms to do more to stop the content appearing in the first place, as police arrest hundreds of suspected paedophiles every month.
- September 17, 2020
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The head of Durham Constabulary also called on social media sites to ban users responsible for abuse or harassment on the platforms for life.
Barton, the national policing lead for crime operations, questioned why it was “so difficult” to remove child pornography from the web.
He said forces are making more than 400 arrests in relation to indecent images of children every month, but police cannot tackle the problem alone.
The senior officer said the onus should be on the companies that invented and run the online platforms.
“It’s their responsibility and instead of posting eye-watering profits, a proportion of them should be channelled into solving this,” he said.
“I am not saying you can stop all crime on the internet. What I’m saying is I think they could do more.”
Barton stopped short of identifying specific firms, saying all of those in the arena have a responsibility.
Google and Facebook together collected more than £6bn worth of advertising in the UK last year. Concerns that the dominance of the pair leaves little room for news publishers online prompted Press Gazette to launch its Duopoly campaign.
“If you name them then the ones that aren’t named might think they are getting off scot free,” he said.
“They’ve all got to think about what security looks like. Just like everybody’s got to make sure their front door is locked when they go out to work.”
He pointed to the emerging trend for live-streaming of child abuse, saying it was one of the most odious forms of criminality on the internet.
“They (the companies) will say that the volumes of traffic on their platforms are so high it’s hard to find them,” Barton said.
“The volumes are so high so they earn eye-watering profits – reinvest those eye-watering profits.
“If you can’t police your system because it’s too big, well, don’t run it so big. Run a company that you can control.”
The police chief referred to a case involving graffiti which prompted a protracted legal process in the US.
He said: “That (was the) process for one offence of criminal damage – can you imagine how difficult it is now to deal with the volumes of crime?
“The range of criminality on the internet – the police can’t possibly do this. This has got to be designed out in the first place.”
Figures published earlier this year indicated that forces in England and Wales recorded an average of 15 child sex offences involving the internet every day in 2016/17.
The rising caseload has emerged as a major challenge for police, and earlier this year another chief constable sparked controversy by suggesting those who viewed indecent images of children should not always face criminal charges.
Simon Bailey, national policing lead for child protection, said lower level offenders should be dealt with through counselling and rehabilitation while officers focus on the most dangerous individuals with access to children and those looking at the most serious images.
Meanwhile, Barton called on social media firms such as Twitter and Facebook to permanently “kick off” those who use their sites to bully, harass and stalk other users.
He said: “If you have somebody who has a propensity to insult people and you allow them to stay in that place then don’t be surprised if they insult others and it escalates.
“Why not just give them a lifetime ban? It’s not breaching someone’s human rights to say you can’t use Twitter.”
The NSPCC called for more to be done to tackle child abuse images “flooding dark corners of the web”.
A spokeswoman for the charity said: “An estimated half a million men in the UK may have viewed child sexual abuse images online and behind every image a child has been harmed and is suffering in the real world.
“We are calling on the Government to act urgently and require internet companies to meet a set of robust minimum standards, with a tough regulator to hold them to account if they fail to protect children.”