The importance of user-focused tools in CSE investigations
11 November, 2020
Dave Ranner & Matt Burns
Digital image forensics isn’t something the average lay person would have heard of, especially if they aren’t a fan of CSI. In a way, we also stumbled across this field when Matt Burns had his digital camera stolen and created stolencamerafinder.
With no background in law enforcement or criminal investigations, we didn’t know the potential and far-reaching impacts this technology could have. But, inspired by the work of investigators and law enforcement, it became our mission to develop tools that made a positive difference and empowered the safeguarding of victims.
Everyone understands that online crime, such as child sexual exploitation (CSE), exists. But for most people, it’s easy to turn off to the severity and prevalence of these crimes.
Before we truly began the CameraForensics journey, we assumed that there were enough players in the game, and that the battle against online crime was steadily being won. It wasn’t until we entered the world of criminal investigations that we understood the vastness and importance of work still needing to be done.
Simply put, there is just too much activity for even the most dedicated investigators to keep up with – and it continues to multiply every year.
While working in a different business, we were asked by the National Crime Agency to apply our technology to victim identification. Once we recognised how our work could support the safeguarding of victims and the difference this could make for investigators, we couldn’t see ourselves working in any other field – this is how CameraForensics was started.
What has continued to motivate us ever since are the people. Being part of the community, your eyes get opened to the sheer amount of passionately driven people working towards a combined mission.
We learned the challenges they face – that hold them back from doing their job effectively, from saving more people, or closing more cases – and made it our mission to support them to do more, better, and quicker.
Supporting the fight against crime is our primary goal. That’s why we try to be as victim-centric as possible – steering our decisions by whether they will empower investigators to safeguard more people.
This mantra has encouraged us over the years to focus on community, integration, and R&D.
We have been deeply involved in an industry network of NGOs, technology providers, and law enforcement agencies collaborating to enact change throughout the years and continue to build global partnerships for the benefit of our users.
As we learn more about the world of online crime, we have realised that online crime is a larger problem than we ever thought, and so we try to adapt when we discover new challenges. In the past six years, we have widened our scope from just victim identification to also include direct impacts of online abuse such as revictimization.
It’s become important to us to remember that there’s more to be done once a victim is “saved”. There are still many ways in which they are and can be affected, so a lot of our latest R&D is focused on supporting them and the removal of abuse material from the internet.
We develop our tools to empower users to detect and protect victims.
The CameraForensics platform is a digital image forensics tool which crawls the internet for open images. It allows users to search for images in different ways – including metadata, similarity, and geographic data – to find images relevant to their case and uncover connections or leads that progress their investigation. Without our technology, this intelligence would be unavailable to investigators because of lack of resources, time or tools.
Our platform is constantly crawling the internet and contains over 3 billion images in its database. Whenever our tech identifies any child sexual abuse images (CSAM) it gets reported to NCMEC via Project Arachnid who aim to remove this material from the web.
We also contribute to the wider community in any other ways we can. We develop specialist tools for investigators, provide consultancy to help users get the most out of our tools, and regularly present at collaborative industry development events like DevOps.
We are always re-evaluating our values and our stance as a team.
We want to ensure the mission of our team is aligned with each other – and with other organisations we partner with. Working towards the same thing, we can strengthen our position in the fight against criminals.
This is ever more important as online criminal networks become more sophisticated, widespread, and difficult to catch. It takes a network to defeat a network; by banding together we are fuelling the same mission and can ultimately achieve more.
If you want to learn more about the CameraForensics platform and our work, get in touch.