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Government launches Safety Tech Challenge Fund to tackle online child abuse in end-to-end encrypted services

The Safety Tech Challenge Fund will bring together global experts with funding of up to £85,000 each, to demonstrate how end-to-end encryption can be implemented without opening the door to greater levels of child sexual abuse.

The Government has today (8 September) launched a global fund aimed at tackling child sexual abuse online. 
The Safety Tech Challenge Fund will award five organisations from across the world up to £85,000 each to develop innovative technologies to keep children safe in end-to-end encrypted environments such as online messaging platforms. 
Applications for funding will open to applicants globally from 8 September 2021, and close on 6 October 2021.
Successful applicants will use the funding to develop innovative technologies which demonstrate how tech companies could continue to detect images or videos showing sexual abuse of children while ensuring end to end encryption is not compromised. Applicants must demonstrate how their solutions protect the privacy of legitimate users, whilst preventing services being used by child sexual abuse offenders to facilitate their crimes.
The UK, other governments and child safety organisations have raised concerns about the introduction of end-to-end encryption by social media, messaging and other tech services without sufficient safety measures in place. Without greater investment in safety solutions, there will be serious detrimental consequences for tech companies’ ability to reduce the proliferation of child sexual abuse material on their platforms, protect children from being groomed for sexual abuse, and help law enforcement to safeguard victims and arrest offenders.
The Fund, which will run for five months from November 2021, is part of the Government’s wider effort to tackle harmful and illegal behaviours taking place on social media and other online platforms.
Globally, tech companies identified and reported 21 million instances of child sexual abuse last year. This vital work protects children from abuse and reduces the trauma of survivors whose imagery would otherwise continue to circulate online. In the last year, UK law enforcement made more than 6,000 arrests or voluntary attendances, and safeguarded more than 8,000 children as a consequence of industry reports of child sexual abuse.
End-to-end encryption will prevent law enforcement from securing lawfully authorised access to vital content as part of their investigations and will undermine existing safety measures. This means that fewer victims will be safeguarded, and fewer criminals will be brought to justice.
The Fund presents a way in which various sectors including NGOs, technology companies and academics, can come together to share best practice around this growing threat and ensure tech companies continue to address it. Technologies developed will be evaluated by independent academic experts to measure effectiveness and privacy safeguards and ensure that learnings are shared.
The launch of the Fund has been welcomed by a range of global experts.
“The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) applauds the launch of the UK’s Safety Tech Challenge Fund to support development of technology solutions that prioritize child safety online while also protecting consumer privacy. Last year, NCMEC’s CyberTipline received more than 21 million reports relating to child sexual exploitation, and the numbers of reports this year are likely to be even higher. Time is of the essence to develop safety measures that can operate in encrypted environments to protect children who are being enticed online and whose horrific images of child sexual abuse are circulated online. The Safety Tech Challenge will be crucial to enabling the tech industry, academic experts, non-profits, and government agencies to collaborate together on global solutions to keep children safer online without compromising consumer privacy.” - John Clark, NCMEC President & CEO
“As a global community we must strive to take every step we can to combat the scourge of online child sexual exploitation and abuse wherever it is found. Encryption is a many-layered, complex issue that requires detailed consideration and thoughtful review in order to minimise the potential for harm across encrypted communication channels, and to ensure that a suitable balance is struck between security, privacy and safety. There are promising technological breakthroughs that can surface illegal content in E2EE environments without sacrificing user privacy, and we must harness the possibilities that they offer in a unified and integrated way. The impact of technological innovation in protecting children and young people from these heinous crimes could be hugely significant. We look forward to seeing the outcomes of the UK’s safety tech challenge investment fund and working in collaboration with our global partners to ensure that effective solutions are able to be implemented and adopted globally. It is vital that the global community escalate their efforts to stop the growth of this crime so that we can truly move forward in protecting children and young people, and survivors of child sexual abuse. The UK government should be commended for their efforts in developing this fund.” - Julie Inman Grant, e-Safety Commissioner, Australia
“End to end encryption provides a protected environment for those who wish to trade horrific child sexual abuse material (CSAM).  Not only do these criminals trade this evidence of a serious crime but they discuss the rape of children, seek to “normalize” the abuse of children and trade tips on how to avoid being caught by law enforcement. We ALL want and need our privacy - free from mass government monitoring of any kind - but we also need the resources and technical ingenuity of the big tech companies to provide solutions that will allow them to preserve our privacy AND respect the privacy of the children whose abuse is traded on their platforms on a daily basis.” - Glen Pounder, Chief Operating Officer, Child Rescue Coalition 
“As a private funder of survivors’ groups, children advocates, and solution-oriented changemakers united to prevent child sexual abuse on- and off-line, Oak Foundation applauds the UK’s leadership in this area with their new tech challenge. We cannot sufficiently stress the need for more governments, funders, and tech industry to tackle this problem of online harm.” -  Brigette DeLay, Program Director, Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, Oak Foundation


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