1. ITV Report

Why the debate over blocking child abuse images is misleading

In an article for ITV News, the former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Jim Gamble, has warned that today's summit called by the Culture Secretary to put pressure on leading internet and technology companies to do more to tackle child abuse images on the web will achieve little.

Jim Gamble pictured in 2005. Credit: PA

Today's meeting between the UK's top Internet Service Providers and the Government is going to be a perfectly choreographed event that will produce lots of sound-bites about things already in motion but achieve little else.

The Government has understandably demanded action from internet giants in the aftermath of the trials of Stuart Hazell and Mark Bridger, two paedophiles who admitted accessing images of abuse online, but who is demanding action from the Government?

In a climate dominated by recession it is easy to understand how the debate has been diverted to target a giant that pays little tax, but let's at least be honest about it.

If they paid more tax tomorrow how much would the Government, who have failed to keep the promise they made two years ago to build on the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre, allocate to child protection?

Mark Bridger was jailed for life for the abduction and murder of April Jones Credit: PA

The problem has been misrepresented and confused, not least by the fact that some have insisted on mixing two issues and in doing so have introduced ambiguous and misleading language.

Internet service providers don't block legal content, so the debate concerning adult pornography is complicated, not by its illegality but by the harm it can or might do to young impressionable minds.

This needs to be addressed, but remember many service providers including Google provide a "safer search" function; the problem is parents don't use it.

They put on seat belts and fit complicated child seats in their cars, but don't use these simple safety settings that inhibit access to inappropriate content.

If you failed to put your child's seat belt on, would your first response be to blame the car manufacturer?

The fact is when it comes to illegal child abuse images, Google already block them, have done so for a very long time and work hard behind the scenes developing initiatives to help clean up the net.

They could do more and I applaud their recent announcement of further funding for front line charities.

In recent weeks, however, you would be forgiven for thinking that Google is the route of choice for paedophiles seeking images.

It is not. The vast majority operate on peer-to-peer networks and in the deep dark web where they nest in large numbers, sharing information, support for one another, and of course images.

They will not be perturbed by today's news, they don't fear you blocking images - they make their own.

They fear being exposed in broad day light as the child abusers they are. They fear capture.

Their worst fear is only likely to become a reality when police have the capability and capacity to infiltrate their networks, and to follow the online trail to their offline location.

The only way to deal with peer-to-peer sharing spaces is to empower law enforcement to go into these dark areas.

Watch: Cameron adviser Claire Perry says tackling online abuse images is "not a question of censorship, but rather common sense."

So why has the Government failed to keep the promise it made? Why has CEOP, charged with leading the fight against these predators, been operating on a reducing £6.4 million budget?

Why have they added additional responsibility without resource and how whilst facing a tsunami of images and levels of known peer-to-peer activity they cannot possibly handle are they to hold predators to account?

Preventing access to images is important, but in my opinion we are in danger of becoming so fixated with blocking that we forget that the true horror is the fact that each picture is a crime scene photo of a real child suffering real abuse.

Where are these children and how many people do we employ to look for them?

The Government must invest, or face the fact that calling on others to do all they can, whilst you don't, is simple hypocrisy.

Think about what could have been achieved with the £98 million wasted on the doomed BBC digital initiative or the vast amounts spent on G8, where I hope this global issue is discussed.

The Government needs to remember technology doesn't hurt people, people hurt people.

Crucially, it is not too late for those people in government to do the right thing, to reflect on what matters most and rather than divert uncomfortable debates to divert sufficient funding to make a real difference for real children.

If they don't I fear that after today, it will be back to business as usual: Good news for predators and bad news for those they seek to abuse.

Jim Gamble is the former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre amd now the chief executive of INEQE Safe & Secure.

His views do not necessarily represent those of ITV News.

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