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Database to identify child abuse threat

HOMEPAGE NEWS REPORTS INDEX NEWS JANUARY 2011
Original Source: SUNDAY POST 09 JANUARY 2011
EXCLUSIVE by John Paul Breslin
09 January 2011 (
Sunday Post (paper edition)
 

Images of runaway kids will be cross-checked

FACES of runaways and missing children could be cross-referenced against a national database of child abuse images to find out if they are being harmed.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) has used facial recognition software to scan for some missing children in its database of videos and pictures of abuse.

However, it is now considering expanding this to look for all runaways and missing kids in the UK.

It could even search material after children have been reunited with their families to ensure they didn't run away to escape abuse.

Martin Houghton-Brown, Chief Executive of charity Missing People, said CEOP is already searching for "a significant number of children who have been missing for over a year".

However, he wants the organisation to go further and check for all runaways.

"It's clear that some young people are targeted for sexual exploitation, and the first indication of that can be that they're running away from home," he said.

"One of the mediums that potential exploiters and abusers will use is the Internet.

"There should be a national resource where pictures of missing children can be cross-checked against online child abuse images.

"We need to be robust in the way that we prevent these incidents from happening and investigate them, and CEOP's expertise would be valuable in doing that."

Every year, 9000 children go missing in Scotland. The figure is closer to 77,000 in the UK as a whole.

CEOP's database contains hundreds of thousands of photos and videos of abuse that have been seized in child sex offender investigations.

Using facial recognition software to search the database for all runaways and missing children could help save more youngsters and bring their abusers to justice.

CEOP asked members of the public who were in Praia da Luz around the time of Madeleine McCann's disappearance to send them images of their holiday.

The organisation said it wanted the images to "build a larger intelligence picture".

However, a spokesman for Kate and Gerry McCann said he would not discuss whether or not CEOP has searched its database for the little girl.

"CEOP has worked closely with the McCann's to assist the search for Madeleine," he said.

"Kate and Gerry have been pleased with the work that CEOP has done on their behalf over the last three and a half years.

Scupper

"But they will not discuss, for operational reasons, any detail of the technical work that has been carried out.

"Of course, Kate and Gerry would welcome anything and any development in technology that would allow child sex offenders to be brought to justice."

Charities are worried that Government proposals to merge CEOP within a new National Crime Agency would scupper the organisation's facial recognition plans.

Former chief executive Jim Gamble, two senior managers and a group of specialist Internet investigators have already quit CEOP over the proposed merger.

The Association of Chief Police Officers and Shadow Home Secretary Alan Johnson have also said they want CEOP to remain a standalone body.

Sunday Post (paper edition)

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