The History Of WePROTECT

On 22 July 2013, the Prime Minister David Cameron made a speech regarding the proliferation and accessibility of child abuse images on the Internet and about cracking down on online pornography.[1] The Prime Minister announced that a new UK-US taskforce would be created to lead a global alliance of the biggest Internet companies to tackle indecent images of children online. Joanna Shields, then the Prime Minister’s ambassador for digital industries, would head up this initiative, working with UK and US governments and law enforcement agencies and with industry to maximise the international efforts.

In October 2013, it was announced that Damian Green, HMG Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims would be travelling to the US with Joanna Shields to formalise arrangements for the task force[2] and to meet with the US Attorney General and leading internet companies.

On 18 November 2013 the Prime Minister hosted an Internet Safety Summit [3] at No 10 Downing Street with Joanna Shields to discuss what is being done to protect children from harmful material online and block child abuse content. Participants included leading search engines, internet service providers, the National Crime Agency, Internet Watch Foundation and the NSPCC to discuss how to rid the internet of child sexual abuse and exploitation. After the summit the Internet safety communiqué [4] was issued setting out what action was agreed.

On 13 December 2013, Policing Minister Damian Green and US Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman and Joanna Shields launched the first meeting of the US-UK taskforce to Counter Online Child Exploitation’.[5] Over the next year, as Chair of the taskforce, Joanna Shields was responsible for bringing together experts in government, industry, law enforcement and academia from both sides of the of the Atlantic to combat child sexual exploitation crimes on the Internet and to reduce the volume of indecent images of children online.

In April 2014, Home Office minister Damian Green addressed the NSPCC child safety conference [6] about the government’s work to stamp out online sexual exploitation. He revealed that the government was working with major industry players, Google andMicrosoft, on a pilot to make it even tougher for pedophiles to share child abuse images.

He also told the conference [7] that Google had launched a programme to embed their engineers in the Internet Watch Foundation. The theme of his speech was encouraging Internet companies to innovate to fight online child sexual exploitation and announced that Joanna Shields, would be leading an industry solutions event as part of the US-UK taskforce. The event would bring together experts from across the technology sector to come up with innovative solutions to tackle the sharing of indecent images online and adults interacting with children for sexual purposes.

In May 2014, the industry solutions event (#WePROTECT 2014 [8]) took places at Grey’s Inn in London, involving 67 technology specialists and innovators from 48 of the world’s leading technology companies. The event was led by the National Crime AgencyCEOP, the Home Office and delivered by Brandfuel! and facilitated by PA Consulting. The solutions event started with a hackathon with leading internet, technology and cyber intelligence companies participating aimed to develop breakthrough technology concepts that could assist in the prevention and investigation of online child abuse and the protection of victims. The event successfully laid the foundations for a new model of collaboration across industry, harnessing a diverse range of technical skills, knowledge and experience to tackle sharing indecent images and the grooming of children for sexual purposes.

The UK Prime Minister, hosted the #WePROTECT Global Summit,[9] in December 2014. The summit gathered countries, leading technology companies and civil society organisations in London to galvanise action to tackle online child sexual exploitation. TheHome Secretary [10] opened the Summit, speaking about the scale of the abuse and what the UK is doing to combat it. The Prime Minister [11] was the keynote speaker on the second day. Alongside a raft of measures and technical innovations to tackle those who use the Internet to view and share indecent images, the Prime Minister announced that the UK will work with UNICEF to develop a new global Child Protection Fund [12] and that the UK would be making a £50 million contribution to the fund, over five years.

Other speakers at the Summit included Keith Bristow,[13] Director General of the National Crime Agency, who spoke about the need for law enforcement, the civil society and industry to work together to minimise risk to children and maximise risk to offenders; andBaroness Joanna Shields, the Prime Minister’s Digital Adviser,[14] spoke about the importance of the technology industry using its talents, skills and capacity for innovation to tackle online child exploitation and she delivered a report on milestones by industry partners over the course of 2014.

Attendees also heard from executives from Microsoft, Google, EY and Visa, who set out their work as part of #WePROTECT and pledged to continue with the development of the concepts that had emerged from May’s workshop, including blocking the viewing of illegal material at the browser level, internet interaction risk scoring, a victim identification tool and a system for children to report self generated indecent images.

It was also announced that the United Arab Emirates would be hosting a further conference in 2015 to ensure that the global response comes to fruition.

At the end of the Summit four ambitious statements of action [15] were published, to date these have been signed by over 50 countries, 20 companies and 10 civil society organisations.

A follow on WePROTECT Industry event [16] took place in September 2015. Speaking at the event, UK Minister for Internet Safety & Security, Baroness Joanna Shields [17] delivered the message of continued support of this initiative and the vital importance of this initiative as a broad global coalition of the willing who come together to share information and collaborate on how best to protect children online. Industry delegates also heard from representatives of the WePROTECT initiative including Google, Facebook andMicrosoft on milestones achieved by each of the companies in preventing sexual abuse images appearing in search results, identifying online grooming and detecting and removing videos of children being abused.

On November 16 & 17, 2015, the United Arab Emirates will host the second WePROTECT Global summit in Abu Dhabi.

Citations: 

  1.  "The internet and pornography: Prime Minister calls for action"
  2. "Internet child abuse 'clampdown' by new UK-US agency - BBC News"
  3.  "PM hosts internet safety summit - News stories"
  4. "Internet safety summit at Downing Street: communiqué - News stories"
  5. "UK and US launch taskforce to tackle child abuse - News stories"
  6. "Child abuse: Stepping up the fight against online child sexual exploitation - News stories"
  7.  "On-line safety: Encouraging the world’s biggest technology companies to innovate - Speeches"
  8.  "Helping make children safer online | PA Consulting Group"
  9. "Global war declared on online child sexual abuse - News stories"
  10. "We owe it to victims to act boldly and decisively - Speeches"
  11. "#WeProtect Children Online Global Summit: Prime Minister's speech - Speeches"
  12. "PM announces new global action to deal with online child abuse - Press releases"
  13. "WeProtect summit". National Crime Agency. 2014-12-10. 
  14. "#WeProtect Children Online Global Summit: Baroness Shields' speech - Speeches"
  15.  "#WeProtect summit: statements of action - Publications"
  16. "Internet experts share new techniques to battle online child sexual exploitation - News stories"
  17.  "Securing children's safety in a digital world - Speeches"