Police slow to utilise national child exploitation database

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Police slow to utilise national child exploitation database

Microsoft withdraws philanthropic support for software.

More than a year since its completion, only four Australian police agencies have actively taken up the use of a national image matching tool with the potential to dramatically reduce the exposure of officers to emotionally damaging child abuse images.

In 2010 the Queensland Police Service (QPS), in cooperation with the Australian Federal Police and the national coordination agency CrimTrac, began developing the Australian National Victim Image Library (ANVIL) using Child Exploitation Tracking Software (CETS) developed by Canadian police in collaboration with Microsoft.  

CETS/ANVIL is a database of collected images of child abuse that have been electronically identified using image recognition and hash functions. Officers can check new images against the database to find if duplicates exist, and if they do it is likely that another officer in another case has already gone through the grim task of rating the severity of the image for the courts.

Some officers within the QPS believe that widespread use of ANVIL could reduce the amount of time child exploitation team members spend on the often traumatic task by up to 80 percent.

In April 2012 then Home Affairs and Justice Minister Jason Clare committed $4.6 million to a national roll-out of the capability, which was expected to be fully operational by mid-2012.

However CrimTrac, the agency charged with managing and maintaining the database, told iTnews that at present only four police forces nationwide are actively using the tool: the QPS, AFP, Northern Territory Police and the Victoria Police.

Several of the remaining police jurisdictions have gone as far as implementing the underlying CETS software, but have not yet progressed to the stage of connecting up to ANVIL. iTnews understands that there is frustration within the QPS that its innovation is not spreading as fast as it could be.

The South Australian Police seem to be on the path towards adoption, but are using an alternative process for image matching for the time being.

“SAPOL is actively working in partnership with CrimTrac and other police jurisdictions towards the development of an Australian National Victim Image Library referred to as CETS/ANVIL.

“[We] currently use infrastructure and tools that will complement the CETS/ANVIL when it commences production. We currently use the infrastructure and tools to conduct matching of known Child Exploitation Material which amongst other things reduces practitioner repeated exposure to this material,” said Detective Superintendent Damien Powell.

The NSW Police Force, however, were unable to confirm whether a connection into ANVIL is on its agenda.

“While the objective is to reduce investigators being exposed to this type of material the priority is and remains to locate and rescue the children depicted in these images from further exploitation,” explained NSW Police Sex Crimes Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent John Kerlatec. “Technology has progressed since ANVIL was first launched.”

Tasmania’s Police said it is “engaged in the CETS/ANVIL project” but did not provide any more details on the nature of the engagement.

The WA Police had not responded to iTnews’ enquiries at the time of publication.

Microsoft pulls support for CETS

CrimTrac was also able to confirm that Microsoft has ceased its philanthropic support of the CETS software as of April 2013.

Microsoft has been on board with CETS from the beginning, collaborating with Canadian Police to develop the tool.

However its plans to end the relationship have been the subject of rumours since at least 2011.

“Microsoft has been working with the CETS community in recent years to turn over operational management of the program to those that actually use and participate in it.

“This year, Microsoft delivered what we anticipate are the last software updates expected from Microsoft for this program and it is now fully owned and operated by the CETS community themselves moving forward,” said a spokesperson.

The tech giant still maintains a number of other philanthropic pursuits in this space.

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