U.S. to discover a large number of child sex abuse URLs by 2021

A new report shows that the number of CSAM storage around the world increased by 64 percent last year, and the increase in the United States has put the country second behind the Netherlands.

Every year, the number of photos and videos featuring child sexual abuse content found online increases — and 2021 is no exception. Investigators uncovered a record number of child sexual abuse documents (CSAM) last year, new figures reveal.

Data from the UK’s child safety nonprofit, the Internet Watchdog (IWF), shows that 252,194 URLs contained images of child sexual abuse in the past 12 months. That’s up 64 percent from 2020. As well as the overall numbers recorded,

The charity has found a significant increase in the number of CSAM stored in the United States. Chris Hughes, director of the IWF’s hotline, said the organization responds to reports of CSAM online and also actively uses technology to track down abusive content. Most of the photos the IWF found were on image hosting sites where people could upload content to share.

Since 2016, the Netherlands has stored more abusive material than any other country the IWF has analyzed. (It is home to one of the largest internet exchanges in the world.) Last year, the Netherlands had 102,676 confirmed reports of CSAM, accounting for 41% of the total found by the IWF. This is a drop from 2020’s figures, but it coincides with a spike in U.S.-linked reports.

The IWF tracked down 52,774 URLs containing CSAM to the United States last year, accounting for 21% of the URLs recorded by the IWF and putting the country in second place in the IWF rankings.

In 2020, it found 8,257 URLs stored in the United States. Hughes said the change happened when image hosting sites changed their geographic servers to avoid being taken offline.

“Some image servers and forum pages have moved out of the Netherlands,” Hughes said. “A handful of sites — and in particular two that I would think have moved to the U.S. — are now increasing our statistics for U.S.-based content.” He refuses to name the sites because it will draw more attention to them.

Hughes said CSAM hosting sites are constantly on the move to avoid detection. He claims a website has moved servers 10 times this year alone. It has been held in France, Latvia, Moldova, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, the UK and the US. Hughes says websites can easily “hide in sight” when moving to a country with multiple internet hosting services.

“We saw a sharp drop in documentation [in] last year,” said Asda Gerkens, chief executive of Dutch child protection group EOKM. This is not a good thing. A lot of websites have moved to countries that don’t have a hotline or any other method to ask them to take down documents.” In the Netherlands, Gerkens said, 95% of abusive material was deleted within 24 hours of being discovered.

Although the IWF’s 2021 figures show a change in geography, they are just a snapshot of what is being found online. The true scale of online CSAM is unclear. In part, record numbers are being found every year as tech companies and child safety organizations are discovering it better.

John Shehan, vice president at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), a U.S.-based nonprofit child safety organization, said:

“There are more and more incidents around the world. By law, tech companies in the United States — from Facebook, Google to GitHub and Giphy — are required to report any CSAM they find on their systems. Last year, more than 200 companies made 29 million reports of abuse material, according to data reported to ncmec. Shehan said: “That’s about 35 per cent up from the previous year. He added that the reports contained 39 million images and 44 million videos.

Ncmec’s geographic analysis shows that the U.S. is one of the largest locations for reports — 716,474 reports were made last year (up from 494,388 in 2020) — but it’s attracted to other countries. More than 4.6 million reports of child abuse material were linked to India last year, while more than 2 million reported involving both Pakistan and the Philippines. Many other countries have had more than a million reports.

The number of child sexual abuse material found online could continue to rise in the coming years – both the EU and the UK plan to force companies to actively seek out abusive content. Although the law can be difficult to implement. These plans could involve scanning more people’s communications and potentially causing further conflicts over end-to-end encryption, helping to protect people’s privacy and security. As Apple learned last year, trying to balance the trade-off isn’t easy.

Correction: An earlier version of the subheading on this article incorrectly cited the percentage of CSAM storage that has increased in the United States by 2021. We are sorry about this error.

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