Child Sex Abuse Tip Line May Soon Be Flooded by AI

New Stanford report issues warning on longtime 'enormously valuable' service
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 23, 2024 10:09 AM CDT
AI-Generated Child Sex Abuse May Swamp Tip Line
Pages from the CyberTipline website are seen on a computer in New York on Friday.   (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

A tip line set up 26 years ago to combat online child exploitation needs technological and other improvements to help law enforcement rescue victims and go after abusers, a new report from the Stanford Internet Observatory has found. The fixes to what the researchers describe as an "enormously valuable" service must also come urgently, as new artificial intelligence technology threatens to worsen its problems. "Almost certainly in the years to come, the CyberTipline will just be flooded with highly realistic-looking AI content, which is going to make it even harder for law enforcement to identify real children who need to be rescued," says researcher Shelby Grossman, an author of the report, per the AP.

The service was established by Congress as the main line of defense for children who are exploited online. By law, tech companies must report any child sexual abuse material they find on their platforms to the system, which is operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. After it receives the reports, NCMEC attempts to find the people who sent or received the material—as well as the victims, if possible. These reports are then sent to law enforcement. The CyberTipline received more than 36 million reports in 2023, nearly all of them from online platforms. Almost half of the tips sent last year were actionable, meaning NCMEC and law enforcement could follow up. The rest either didn't have enough information or the image had been reported many times before. Some are also false alarms. "It drives law enforcement nuts," Grossman says.

"There are significant issues with the entire system right now, and those cracks are going to become chasms in a world in which AI is generating brand new [child sexual abuse material]," says Stanford lecturer and cybersecurity expert Alex Stamos. The Stanford researchers interviewed 66 people involved with the CyberTipLine, ranging from law enforcement and NCMEC staff to online platform employees. Many said they've been raising concerns for years. The NCMEC said it looked forward to "exploring the recommendations internally and with key stakeholders." One relatively easy fix proposed in the report: Improve how tech platforms label what they're reporting to distinguish between widely shared memes and something that deserves closer investigation. More here.

(More child sex abuse stories.)

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