The challenge is to stay ahead of the criminals as they use new technology to perpetrate the age-old crime of sex abuse.
The number is stunning: 45 million online images of child sexual abuse last year — minors who deserved the best but who received the worst of humanity.
Such depravity ought to turn all of our stomachs, and we applaud The New York Times for an incisive report on this epidemic.
Two decades ago, The Times reports, there were about 3,000 such images on the web. In the ensuing 20 years, the problem has mushroomed in sync with the explosion of the dark, seedy recesses of the Internet, and spilled over to Facebook Messenger, Microsoft’s Bing search engine, storage service Dropbox and other popular platforms.
The reason is that technology and how society uses it has evolved faster than the law. According to The Times, the Justice Department failed to produce legally required reports that would have compiled data about internet crimes against children and established goals and strategies to eliminate the abuses.
Tech companies are taking steps to curb this abuse. Facebook, for example, is working to track images of abuse and block them from appearing on its platform. It has also assembled a dedicated team to work on the larger problem and often finds itself training law enforcement officials.
But the hard truth is this: What’s being done now is not enough when the scourge of these images grows by tens of millions a year.
The challenge is to stay ahead of the criminals as they use new technology to perpetrate the age-old crime of sex abuse. That’s harder than it sounds, because we have to protect the privacy of legitimate uses while also finding and prosecuting criminals.
What makes the problem exponentially more difficult is that this is a global issue. Sophisticated offenders know how to hide on the other side of international boundaries. Funding is also a factor. In 2010, the feds spent about $20 million combating this problem and handled about 20,000 reported instances of abuse. In the most recent year, the feds spent about the same but had to deal with about 120,000 reports of abuse. Arrests doubled over that period, but at some point more funding is needed to make gains against this problem.
In 2008, Congress passed the Protect Our Children Act, which was a good step, but much more is needed.
We’re encouraged to see that debates on policing digital communities are starting to heat up in Washington. And our advice to officials inside the Beltway is to start thinking outside the confines of past debates. Law enforcement needs new tools, and the laws governing the digital space are not written in stone. Meaningful reform is possible, and what 45 million images of abuse tells us is that it’s also necessary.
— DALLAS MORNING NEWS