Activists say the coronavirus has caused a “global slowdown” in the removal of child abuse images from the Internet.
The Internet Watch Foundation says tech companies have fewer staff to remove illegal documents, making it easier to view and share sexual predators.
Almost 90 percent fewer suspicious web addresses or URLs were deleted during the pandemic, the charity says.
The warning comes as the IWF’s annual report reveals that Europe is the “center” of photos and videos on child sexual abuse.
In 2019, 89% of URLs containing abusive content were found on computer servers based in Europe, compared to 79% in 2018.
Servers in the Netherlands, which have a solid technology infrastructure and low costs, hosted the most illegal content discovered by IWF staff – 93,962 URLs, or 71% of the total.
“We have seen a real and frightening increase in the amount of child pornography stored right outside our door here in Europe,” said Susie Hargreaves, Director General of the IWF.
- Record number of child abuse images processed
- Team fights to delete images of online child abuse
Countries must adopt a “zero tolerance” strategy for the problem by tackling supply and demand, added Hargreaves.
“Although the UK does not have this” accommodation “problem, our problem is that many consumers of child sexual abuse live here,” she said.
She congratulated the staff of the charity, which last year deleted 132,676 web pages and newsgroups reporting on child sexual abuse after assessing reports from people around the world.
“No matter how often the team sees this content, they never lose their humanity or are not shocked by the level of depravity and cruelty that some, a minority, indulge in,” she said.
The immediate problem identified by the IWF is that the rules of social distancing and self-isolation have reduced the number of employees capable of reporting and responding to information reporting illegal content in technology companies, centers of calls and law enforcement.
Therefore, it takes longer to remove images of child abuse.
Between March 16 and April 15, 1,498 URLs were deleted, up from 14,947 in the previous four weeks.
“Hotlines and abuse teams around the world need to be aware of the slowdown in deleting this content and be aware of doing what they can, within their means, to delete this content,” said association.