News item (November 27, 2020)

The technological revolution that’s changing the way CSA investigators work
November 27, 2020 Sara Ekberg

The technological revolution that’s changing the way CSA investigators work

When it comes to the tools police investigators use at work, incredible strides have been made over the past decade alone. Such advancements are especially welcomed by investigators who have the emotionally burdensome task of investigating child sexual abuse (CSA) cases.

To learn more about how technology has transformed over the years to support these investigators—and how it’s evolving to serve them even better in the future—we sat down with our Product Owner Frida Landin, and CTO and Co-founder Mattias Shamlo.

What kinds of tools were CSA investigators using before?

“When we first started working with CSA investigators, they were stuck with manually dragging files between different folders on their computer to structure cases, and classify images and videos as legal or illegal material,” recalls Mattias.

Ten years ago, the bar for making a difference with technology was rather low—CSA investigators hardly had any support at all.   

“Supplying a solution that could give an overview of collected material and automatically categorize and filter content by relevancy was game-changing,” says Mattias. “Today, it’s just a basic feature—now we’re applying far more advanced technology that’s helping investigators prioritize, focus on the right clues, and solve cases faster.”

Shifting to a victim-centric approach 

The way investigators approach CSA cases has also changed significantly in the last couple of years.

“Focus used to be on the possession and consumption of CSA material, and finding and apprehending the offender,” says Frida. “But today, we know that it is far more effective, and more important, to focus on the victim.”

Taking a victim-centric approach in CSA cases means that the primary goal of an investigation is identifying the victims, which often entails rescuing children from ongoing abuse. As part of a general shift, this approach has been adopted by an increasing number of agencies in recent years.

“We’ve been advocates of a victim-centric approach since the very beginning,” says Mattias.

“Of course, taking this approach also puts greater demands on what the investigator needs in terms of technical support. For us, this means we have to work closely with our users to understand how we can build technology that is truly supportive and allows them to work as efficiently as possible.”

“…we have to work closely with our users to understand how we can build technology that is truly supportive and allows them to work as efficiently as possible.”

CSA investigators need tools that are adapted to their mission. This includes functions for searching, filtering, and mapping, as well as more sophisticated features such as face detection and AI. In recent years, AI has been described as one of the most vital emerging technologies which can enable huge opportunities for investigators. 

“Our own AI technology, Griffeye Brain, is the result of collaborating closely with our users to really understand their needs and challenges, and to further empower them in their work,” says Frida. “Today, it’s helping investigators around the world to automatically scan through previously unseen material and find images and videos that depict child sexual abuse. Ultimately, helping them identify victims faster.”

Smarter work methods solve more cases faster—and protect the investigator

With more and more CSA cases emerging every day, building technology that helps investigators save victims isn’t just about supplying the right tools to do the job as quickly as possible. Technology is also needed to help ensure that investigators are protected and supported at every stage of their work.   

“As a tech provider, we have a huge responsibility to help investigators stay in the fight and continue their important work of safeguarding children,” says Mattias.

“Investigators need to work smarter, not just process data faster,” Mattias continues. “An important part of working smart is building in support that can provide some mental relief, so they can get through one case effectively—and then another, and so on. Because as soon as one case is closed, another is waiting to be opened.”

“As a tech provider, we have a huge responsibility to help investigators stay in the fight and continue their important work of safeguarding children.”

Mattias Shamlo, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at Griffeye

Breaking down the silos and building a global tech network

Collaboration is another area where CSA investigators have traditionally faced challenges. This is most often due to a lack of the right processes and technology. Technology can help break down silos not only locally, but also on a national or even global level to facilitate more effective casework. 

“We’ve seen instances where an officer in one force is working through content that another force has already processed which is, of course, a huge waste of time and resources,” says Frida. “Collaboration and sharing knowledge and information, such as hashes, is crucial for investigators in terms of being able to speed up investigations and work more efficiently at identifying and rescuing victims.” 

One example of this is the UK’s Child Abuse Image Database (CAID), which has been shown to dramatically improve the efficiency with which police solve these crimes by enabling officers around the UK to collaborate on CSA cases. There is also the US-based Project VIC, which enables global information sharing via the cloud, and Interpol’s International Child Exploitation (ICSE) database, which enables global victim identification between member countries.

“All these international and national databases are making a tremendous difference for investigators, and continuing to develop tech solutions that allow them to collaborate is key to supporting them in their work. That’s why we, as an example, are working hard to further develop the Griffeye Intelligence Database, which is built into the Analyze platform, so it can reach its full potential,” says Frida. “We want to enable large-scale collaboration between police investigators wherever they are in the world so they can benefit from each other’s work.”

Frida Landin, Product Owner at Griffeye

“Continuing to develop tech solutions that allow investigators to collaborate is key to supporting them in their work.”

“When you make it possible for investigators to easily cooperate, share knowledge, and spot connections between investigations, it cuts down investigation time and victims get rescued faster,” Frida adds. 

Another example of technology that’s facilitating global collaboration today is Microsoft’s PhotoDNA. The robust hashing technology is used to find and match images with the same visual content. Law enforcement officials around the world have agreed to collaborate through PhotoDNA and it is now one of the primary tools used in CSA investigations.

“We can probably speak for all tech companies in our space that, at the end of the day, we all have the same mission,” says Mattias. “No single technology is the silver bullet.’ We believe in building a platform that enables collaboration between tech providers and even third-party solutions. We need to view it as a global tech network.”

“No single technology is the silver bullet.’ We believe in building a platform that enables collaboration between tech providers and even third-party solutions. We need to view it as a global tech network.”

What does the future hold for technology that serves those who protect?

“The amount of case data is growing, so future technology needs to be able to scale even faster, and better,” says Frida.

Another prominent technological development both Frida and Mattias agree we can expect to see more of in the future is AI and machine learning.  

“AI enables things that were not possible five years ago and not even conceivable 10 years ago,” says Mattias. “It’s developing incredibly fast, and I’m sure it will continue at the same pace.”

“But technology can’t solve everything,” Mattias adds. “Human skills will always be needed. No matter what technology comes up in the future, our job will always be to empower investigators so they can focus on what they do best.”

About this series

To serve those who protect is a series of articles that explores topics related to the investigators and law enforcement officials who protect our children from abuse, and the technology that supports them as they carry out their daily mission. Read the first article here.

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