Police to use AI to identify child abuse images

Plan would cut costs and help officers avoid psychological trauma

New Scotland Yard
The Metropolitan Police’s forensics department searched more than 53,000 seized devices last year
(Image credit: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Police forces are planning to use artificial intelligence (AI) systems to identify images of child abuse, in a bid to prevent officers from suffering psychological trauma.

Image recognition software is already used by the Metropolitan Police’s forensics department, which last year searched more than 53,000 seized devices for incriminating evidence, The Daily Telegraph reports. But the systems are not “sophisticated enough to spot indecent images and video”.

However, plans are being developed to move sensitive data collected by police to cloud providers such as Google and Microsoft, according to the newspaper.

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This would allow specialists to harness the tech giants’ massive computing power for analytics, without needing to invest in a multimillion-pound hardware infrastructure.

It would also reduce the risk of police officers suffering psychological trauma as a result of analysing the images, as they would largely be removed from the process.

The Metropolitan’s chief of digital forensics, Mark Stokes, told The Daily Telegraph: “We have to grade indecent images for different sentencing, and that has to be done by human beings right now.

“You can imagine that doing that for year on year is very disturbing.”

With the help of Silicon Valley providers, AI could be trained to detect abusive images “within two to three years”, Stokes adds.

Image searches is not the only use of AI technology by the authorities. In May, The Verge reported that Durham Police were planning to use AI technology to determine whether arrested suspects should remain in custody.

The system, which was trialled over the summer, gauges a suspect’s risk to society based on a range of factors including the severity of their crime and whether they are a “flight risk”.

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