Public Opinion is Clear: Urgent Legislation Required to Protect Children from Sexual Exploitation! Read the story

The role of Artificial Intelligence in protecting children in the digital space

Posted on Aug 17, 2021

What is Artificial Intelligence?
For practical purposes Artificial Intelligence (AI) refers to the way computers use algorithms, a set of rules, to make decisions, often without any direct human intervention and at great speed. Because they work at great speed, they can make an enormous number of decisions in a short period of time, this is one of the reasons it can be very beneficial in aiding the protection of children online. 


How can AI protect children online?
The ability to process huge amounts of information quickly is vital. For example, say a law enforcement agency finds tens of millions of files (videos, images, etc.) on a suspect’s computer, without specialised tools they would  need to go through all of them to see if there are any CSAM. This would take a human team an exceptionally long time and would have a severely negative impact on the welfare of investigators.  So, they may use an AI-based system in combination with other specialised tools to sort through this data and identify the images and videos showing child sexual abuse. This enables them to build a case faster, identify victims, and ultimately help victims seek justice and get the support they need. At the same time, Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat and a range of online platforms and apps use these kinds of systems to detect  child sexual abuse material so they can remove  them and report them to law enforcement.


That’s great! Does it always work?
The ability to process  huge amounts of data in a short time is vital to the protection of children. However, it is not without flaws. The computer is learning and responding to  rules that are pre-programmed by humans. As such, the AI system will make the same decision every time. This can be beneficial or a challenge, as it overrides human error, but it can be biased to the predetermined rules and potentially miss something important.


So where does ECPAT International land on AI?
Ultimately, AI can be used to  protect children, which makes its responsible application paramount for  ECPAT International. At the same time, the organisation feels it is very important for businesses to be accountable for their use of algorithms. In this sense, ECPAT supports the growing movement including in the EU in support of human-centric rather than data-centric AI. This means developing and using AI for positive human and societal impact , ensuring appropriate oversight mechanisms to guard against negative effects such as human and data-driven bias. . 


What are the developments for Project Beacon in 2022?

Since we wrote this article, there have been inevitably developments in terms of EU law and policy that tackle child sexual exploitation and abuse. On 14 July 2021, the temporary derogation to the E-Privacy Directive was published in the official journal of the EU [1]. This directive maintains the status quo for what concerns the proactive use of technology to detect CSAM by online service providers in the EU. The E-privacy Directive has a timeline of three years, and it is essential that longer-term legislation to tackle online child sexual abuse and exploitation is introduced by 13 July 2024.

For this reason, since 2021, ECPAT International is advocating, through Project Beacon, to ensure child protection from sexual abuse and exploitation within the European Digital Services Act that is going to be finalised between April and May 2022- Additionally, Project Beacon advocates for a more comprehensive EU Strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse.

ECPAT continues to work in close partnership with organisations across the EU and globally to advocate for child protection in digital environments. This means leveraging and sharing collective expertise, networks, and voices. ECPAT believes that protecting children from exploitation and abuse online is both possible and essential, and will continue to fight for the best outcomes for children in all relevant EU and international processes.

[1] Regulation (EU) 2021/1232 on a temporary derogation from certain provisions of Directive 2002/58/EC as regards the use of technologies by providers of number-independent interpersonal communications services for the processing of personal and other data for the purpose of combating online child sexual abuse.


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