End-to-end encryption technology favored by social media platforms is hampering efforts to protect children from online exploitation, a parliamentary inquiry has found.
Representatives of the Australian Center for Child Exploitation – an organization run by the Australian Federal Police – said an investigation into the online safety of social media platforms was working with law enforcement to report and fight online abuse.
But AFP Commander Hilda Sirec said the perpetrators were using new technologies on the platforms to commit crimes anonymously.
She told the committee that advances in technology should be made in terms of safety first and profit second.
“(Tech companies) are expected to innovate and deliver technological advancements so that their customer base gets a better user experience,” she said.
“They want to help law enforcement but also have a clientele that they’re trying to improve.”
Cmdr Heric said while end-to-end encryption is good for privacy, it also makes it harder for law enforcement to target criminals because it anonymizes users.
During the last fiscal year, the ACCCE received 22,600 reports of possible online child exploitation.
Of those reports, the organization referred 591 to investigations that resulted in 235 alleged perpetrators facing more than 2,700 charges, the committee heard.
Assistant Commissioner Lesa Gale said that while the scale of child exploitation crimes is significant on the net, it is even greater on the dark web where criminals can use the shield of anonymity.
“The challenge globally remains anonymization technologies and our ability to be able to identify offenders operating on these platforms,” she said.
“We often run into issues in the retention periods of information held by (platforms) and this makes it very difficult to be unable to access information to further an investigation.”
Ms Gale told the committee that education was key to prevention and that parents needed to have honest and regular conversations with their children about what they were doing and seeing online.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much for an abuser to groom a child in an online environment and we regularly see examples of children being groomed within minutes, often while their parents are in the room,” he said. she declared.
“That’s the nature of this offense and how perpetrators will exploit this technology to access, groom and ultimately offend children.”