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Online Education

Empowering Digital Safety: A Global Mission Against Online Child Sexual Abuse Material

"Being safe online means being protected, respected, and empowered when using online spaces. We can ensure this for children by making safety by design the norm in platform design, prioritising digital literacy and education, and by promoting global cooperation between law enforcement, industry, governments, and civil society actors working in this space." 

- Abby Roberts, Project Manager, INHOPE

Empowering Digital Safety: A Global Mission Against Online Child Sexual Abuse Material

In a world where the internet has become a sprawling digital landscape for connection, learning, and exploration, it's also given rise to risks and dangers impacting children and young people. One key issue is the prevalence of illegal child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on the internet. Removing CSAM content from the internet effectively and efficiently is not an easy task. Varying national definitions and regulations hinder global cooperation and data sharing, leaving children vulnerable in the shadows of online dangers. The Global Standard project was launched to address this gap and create a safer digital world for children across borders and national jurisdictions. As the name suggests, Global Standard aims to harmonise the language or terminology used to classify abuse and exploitation material.

Global Standard for CSAM Classification

INHOPE embarked on a pioneering journey in 2022 with the launch of the "Global Standard – a common CSAM classification" project. This ambitious project, supported by funding from Safe Online, crafts a universal language for the classification of CSAM.

"In 2022 at the start of the Global Standard project, we convened an international working group of experts to examine global legislation and identify the core characteristics of abuse and exploitation material within this legislation. These core characteristics have been turned into a set of labels and accompanying definitions that make up the universal classification schema. The schema was launched in March 2023," shares Robert.

Scott Anderson, Victim Identification Analyst with Taskforce Argos - Queensland Police Service, who led the schema working group, elaborates on the process: “We convened an international working group of experts to examine global legislation and identify the core characteristics of abuse and exploitation material. The most challenging part of the process was distilling information from various workflows, processes, legislations, and real-life cases related to child safety. Our aim was to simplify this wealth of information into labels and definitions that could resonate with everyone involved.”

This bridge across global divides offers hotlines, law enforcement, and the industry a shared vocabulary to detect and dismantle the networks of abuse. The heart of this initiative is the creation of an interoperable global CSAM hash set or a digital fingerprint database, fostering unprecedented collaboration in the quest to cleanse the internet of child exploitation material. "The schema's sustainability is ensured by international cooperation and global stakeholder buy-in. A standardised data collection method isn't useful unless everyone is using it and ensures it is fit for everyone's purpose, regardless of organisational mandate," indicates Robert.

Universal Classification Schema: Breaking Down Barriers

The journey towards this unified language was sparked by the insights and dedication of Taskforce Argos - Queensland Police Service. Between 2017 and 2019, their work on the International Categorization Classification Collaborative laid the foundational stones for what would become the Universal Classification Schema. This schema is more than just a framework; it's an outcome of an international cooperation, offering solid space for enhancing the global response to online child sexual abuse and exploitation. 

"With support from Safe Online, INHOPE has developed and launched the Universal Classification Schema, which can map to any legislative criteria for child sexual abuse and exploitation material worldwide. The schema is being shared with stakeholders working in this space and is simultaneously being implemented into INHOPE's ICCAM platform which will enable hotline analysts to annotate material using the Schema," shares Abby Roberts.

What's next for the Schema?

The Universal Classification Schema is designed to benefit all parties involved in the fight against online child sexual exploitation and abuse. It provides a standardised approach for assessing content, defining terms, and collecting data, facilitating information sharing across regions with varying rules. This standardisation will help content moderators, law enforcement and hotline analysts, offering a more effective way to annotate CSAM. Now when an analyst applies the Universal Classification Schema labels we can automatically assess the legality of the content across countries and jurisdictions.

 “The potential for cross-jurisdiction translation capabilities is a significant benefit. This will increase the potential for matching materials in the future, eliminating the need to repeatedly view and classify the same content,” says Anderson. “Ultimately, the schema can significantly boost victim identification capacity, allowing investigators to focus on identifying new victims in previously unknown images and videos, contributing to a more efficient and coordinated effort against online child sexual exploitation and abuse,"
he adds, highlighting the transformative nature of this universal language.

Fostering Communication and Empowerment

The Global Standard project, underpinned by the steadfast support of Safe Online, exemplifies the remarkable outcomes achievable when innovation, teamwork, and empathy converge. This initiative guides us towards a future where the internet becomes a safe haven for every child, showcasing our unwavering commitment to creating and maintaining a secure online environment for our children.

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