Artificial Intelligence and the Fight Against Child Sexual Exploitation

Authored By John Clark, President & CEO, NCMEC

On October 16 of last year, the FBI concluded the 10th annual Operation Cross Country—a program to defeat child sex trafficking operations and rescue victims. Partnering with local and international law enforcement agencies—and supplied with technical assistance and recovery services support from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children* (NCMEC)—agents arrested 239 alleged perpetrators and rescued 82 sexually exploited children.

NCMEC is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation whose mission is to help find missing children, reduce child sexual exploitation, and prevent child victimization. As NCMEC’s CEO, I’m heartened by the success of our partnership with the FBI to help children, and by the attention these ‘big moments’ bring to the important work we do. But these big moments grow out of painstaking, time-consuming day-to-day work that grows in volume every year. That’s why I’m so excited about the collaboration we’ve begun with Intel to use artificial intelligence (AI) to dramatically increase our speed and effectiveness in helping to rescue exploited children. Let me tell you what we’re doing together.

NCMEC’s CyberTipline provides a vehicle for the public and for electronic service providers to report suspected cases of child sexual exploitation. Each report we receive must be prioritized to try to identify children in imminent danger and passed on to an appropriate law enforcement agency with as much added value as we can provide. Last year, we handled more than 8 million reports, and the number is doubling every year. Because of the exploding volume, it can take up to 30 days for our analysts to process some reports—which is 29 days too long.

Tasks often involve searching tens of millions of images to determine whether we have previously seen potential victims or alleged perpetrators, to differentiate new images from those already seen, to match images with network addresses or domain names, and to identify intentionally misleading domain names. If we can help law enforcement to identify the victim in an image, then law enforcement may be able to intervene to rescue the child.

Technology is one of our best tools in the fight against child sexual exploitation, and AI can augment the work our analysts do to help us process reports faster and more accurately. Service and social media providers like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Pinterest already use analytics and AI to detect and stop exploitation within their networks. When I became NCMEC CEO after a career in law enforcement and a stint in cyber security, I was pleased to see the extent to which NCMEC—a non-profit with limited resources—was using technology to solve tough problems. But I was convinced we could do even more. Our partnership with Intel offers us a way to keep up with the exploding volume of reports coming through the CyberTipline and improve our effectiveness in handing them, so it’s one of our most important initiatives.

Intel engineers are helping us assess the problem, showing us better ways to store and access massive amount of data, and finding ways to apply machine learning and advanced analytics to help our analysts work faster and better. Then they’re working with us to design and develop the solutions we need. It’s a hands-on partnership that brings Intel expertise and technology together with our own technical and subject-matter experts to find innovative ways to help victims of child sex trafficking. We’re still in the initial phases, but results so far promise to reduce the typical 30-day turnaround time to just a day or two. And for a child in a vulnerable situation, those 28 or 29 days can literally be a lifetime.

Our collaboration with Intel is proving AI can be applied to solve a growing number of business and societal problems. But as we focus on the technology, we can’t lose sight of the human side of this problem. When we speak of “images,” we’re speaking of children being violently abused, so we need more partnerships and more collaboration with businesses that can help. If you’re a U.S.-based electronic service provider, email us at espteam@ncmec.org and provide your contact info, so we can explore how we can work together. And if you’d like to know more about how the AI technology Intel is providing could help your business or institution, you can find more at the Intel Web site.

And most importantly, to report a suspected case of child sexual exploitation, please visit www.missingkids.org/Cybertipline, where you can also learn more about NCMEC's work to protect children and how you can help. You can also call our 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) to make a report.

 

 

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