ISIS: Protecting children in online social networks

Lead Research Organisation: Swansea University
Department Name: College of Science


The aim of the Isis project is to develop an ethics-centred monitoring framework and tools for supporting law enforcement agencies in policing online social networks for the purpose of protecting children. The project will develop natural language analysis techniques to help identify paedophiles from chat logs and monitoring mechanisms that can be non-invasively attached to file sharing systems for identifying the distributors of child abuse media. The ethical issues associated with such monitoring activities will be rigorously studied and consistently fed back into the development of the framework and tools. The project results will be used and evaluated by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) centre as part of their own policing activities. Recent years have seen a rapid rise in the number and use of online social networks. Such social networks vary in nature from chat systems, for example, MSN, Skype and IRC, to online communities, such as, MySpace and YouTube, through to file sharing systems, for instance, peer-to-peer networks: Gnutella, BitTorrent, FastTrack, etc. These social networks pose two significant risks in terms of child exploitation:1. Paedophiles predating on childrenChildren actively participate in social interactions using forums such as chat rooms and web-based communities. Paedophiles can use such forums to predate on children (as highlighted by the recent arrest and conviction of Lee Costi [Guardian Newspaper, 23rd June 2006]), or even to plan paedophilia-related activities (as illustrated by the recent conviction of paedophiles who were using such systems to plan child abuse [Guardian Newspaper, 6th Feb. 2007]). These concerns are reflected by the formation of the Virtual Global Taskforce, the launch of the CEOP and Scottish legislation to criminalise the 'grooming' of children in chat rooms [Scottish Parliament, Oct. 2004].2. Paedophiles distributing and sharing child abuse mediaPaedophiles can formulate their own social networks using mechanisms, such as file-sharing systems, in order to distribute and share child abuse media. The scale of distribution of illegal media (including child abuse media) on such file-sharing systems was highlighted by a recent pioneering study at Lancaster University, which found that 1.6% of searches and 2.4% of responses on the Gnutella peer-to-peer network relate to illegal sexual content. Given the system's scale, these results suggest that, on the Gnutella network alone, hundreds of searches for illegal images occur each second. The study also found that, of those users sharing illegal sexual content, 57% were solely devoted to such distribution while half of the material shared by another 17% involved such content.


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Description We led user engagement and ethical methodologies for the project. This involved working with law enforcement and other stakeholders. The wider project developed tools and techniques to assist in the online protection of children.
Exploitation Route Methods can be deployed in other sensitive contexts.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Security and Diplomacy

Description Tools and techniques to contribute to protection online.
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Security and Diplomacy