Fighting child exploitation with big data

New technology is helping rescue sexually abused children - and bring the abusers to justice.
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In partnership with Palantir

Every day, thousands of sexually explicit images of children proliferate in the worst corners of the internet. Overwhelmed law enforcement agencies are left with the daunting task of tracking down the abusers and bringing them to justice.

In the U.S., the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children serves as the centralized reporting location for child sexual abuse. Last year alone, they received almost 17 million reports that included 69 million images, videos, and other content related to suspected child exploitation.

Internet service providers, like Google and Facebook, are required by law to report all cases of child exploitation on their platforms to NCMEC in the form of “cyber tips.” Tips can include images, videos, and chats.

The challenge is that NCMEC receives around 60,000 cyber tips each day, and with a team of just 30 analysts, this is far too much data for human eyes to sort through. NCMEC recognized their need for new technology that would help them face this issue with the force necessary to eradicate it, and that’s when Palantir stepped in.

Fighting Child Exploitation

Before working with Palantir, the typical approach to solving crimes involving child exploitation material was to have analysts pour over thousands of images and videos – many of them duplicates from closed cases – and then send tips to law enforcement.

Now Palantir, a software company offering solutions that enable clients to analyze large sets of data, has devised technology to help NCMEC locate children at risk.

The software saves NCMEC’s analysts a tremendous amount of time by directing staff toward reports which may contain brand new content, versus reports related to images and videos that have been previously seen.

Palantir’s software can identify connectivity between reports and it allows the dissection of these reports to be rapidly scaled to the millions and billions. It easily completes tasks that a person couldn’t complete in their entire lifetime.

Palantir also helped devise new methods to spot insights in the data that could assist law enforcement in recovering children from harm and investigating offenders. As a result of the partnership between NCMEC and Palantir, the time it takes to rescue a child and get a child predator into custody has significantly decreased.

The expansive and adaptive system allows law enforcement to stay ahead of the game, gaining ground in the battle to end child exploitation. Because of this new technology, hundreds of arrests have already been made and hundreds of children have been rescued from the grips of sexual abuse.

What used to take days and weeks now takes, in some cases, just hours from the time of a report to the time of an arrest. 

A Growing Need for Child Abuse Prevention Efforts

Around the globe, child exploitation continues to grow at an alarming rate. During the twenty year period from 1998 to 2018, annual reports of child sexual abuse material rose from 3,000 to 18.4 million.

In 2018, there was a record number of flagged content online. The rise of smartphones, social media, and encryption software have made these horrific images increasingly accessible for predators.

Palantir’s innovative systems are vital in combating this onslaught of child exploitation. They provide unequalled technological leverage that far surpasses what humans alone are capable of executing. NCMEC’s task no longer seems as daunting as “finding a needle in a haystack.”

John Shehan, the Vice President of the Exploited Children Division at NCMEC, says, “Technology is always evolving, and normally, the offenders are the first ones to adopt these new technologies, but the work that we’ve done with Palantir to improve our systems and processes has changed the game.”

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