Sep 29, 2019

New York Times investigation finds massive spike in online child sex abuse

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

There were 18.4 million reports of child pornography on the internet last year, which included 45 million images and videos of child sexual abuse, according to an investigation by the New York Times.

Why it matters: Despite tech companies', law enforcement agencies' and legislators' best efforts to prevent the spread of child pornography, the number of reports has exploded over the last 3 decades as technology makes abusive images more accessible and easier to spread.

How it works: The number of child abuse reports has increased in tandem with the rise of encryption technology, specifically encrypted messaging apps.

  • Facebook announced in March plans to encrypt Messenger, which was responsible for nearly 12 million of the 18.4 million child pornography reports last year, according to the Times.
  • Pedophiles use these apps to swap or sell their collections of images and videos.
  • Increasingly, criminals are using encryption technologies to protect websites and imagery from investigators.

By the numbers: In 1998, there were more than 3,000 reports of child sexual abuse imagery. "In 2014, that number surpassed 1 million for the first time," per the Times.

Context: Congress in 2008 passed the PROTECT Our Children Act, which foresaw many aspects of the proliferation of child pornography. The Times, however, found that the federal government had not fulfilled major aspects of the legislation.

The big picture: The problem is global. Most of the images found last year originated in countries outside the U.S., but the problem is compounded by Silicon Valley, which hosts companies accused of facilitating the spread of child abuse imagery.

  • Yes, but: Those same companies are also the leaders in reporting child pornography to the authorities.

What's next: A paper recently published by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children suggested that law enforcement agencies and platform operators like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter may be able to develop software that automatically detects child pornography using machine learning.

Go deeper: Read the full New York Times investigation

Go deeper

Updated 27 mins ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: Protests over George Floyd's death grip Minneapolis

Protesters cheer as the Third Police Precinct burns behind them on in Minneapolis on Thursday night. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Cheering protesters set a Minneapolis police station on fire Thursday night in the third night of unrest following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in the city, per AP.

The state of play: Minnesota's governor on Thursday activated the state's national guard following violent outbreaks throughout the week, as the nation waits to see if the officers involved will be charged with murder.

Updated 5 hours ago - Health

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

New Zealand has a single novel coronavirus case after reporting a week of no new infections, the Ministry of Health confirmed on Friday local time.

By the numbers: Nearly 6 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 and over 2.3 million have recovered from the virus. Over 357,000 people have died globally. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world with over 1.6 million.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 5,803,416 — Total deaths: 359,791 — Total recoveries — 2,413,576Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 1,720,613 — Total deaths: 101,573 — Total recoveries: 399,991 — Total tested: 15,646,041Map.
  3. Public health: The mystery of coronavirus superspreaders.
  4. Congress: Pelosi slams McConnell on stimulus delay — Sen. Tim Kaine and wife test positive for coronavirus antibodies.
  5. World: Twitter slapped a fact-check label on a pair of months-old tweets from a Chinese government spokesperson that falsely suggested that the coronavirus originated in the U.S.
  6. 2020: The RNC has issued their proposed safety guidelines for its planned convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
  7. Axios on HBO: Science fiction writers tell us how they see the coronavirus pandemic.
  8. 🏃‍♀️Sports: Boston Marathon canceled after initial postponement, asks runners to go virtual.
  9. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.