The sexual exploitation and abuse of children, the production of CSEM and subsequent distribution of this material via the internet is a shocking crime. Referrals from Online Service Providers (OSPs) are crucial to fighting CSE. Growth in the number of referrals of CSEM to LEAs is driven both by increased availability and distribution of online CSEM and improved detection and reporting processes. The extent of referrals is affecting LEAs' capacity to respond promptly, leading to an inability to prevent harm to infants and children, rescue those in immediate danger, and investigate and prosecute perpetrators.
Recent improvements to the referral process have improved LEAs capabilities. However, the sheer volume of data obtained in CSE cases stretches human resources, the limits of manual analysis beyond most LEAs reach. Given there has been a 4,000% increase in referrals since 2014, a new approach to managing, processing and analysing this content is necessary.
At the heart of the project, GRACE has three core concepts.
- Address the volume and analyse the content of online CSEM through technological innovations;
- Provide genuine operational value to LEAs in their investigation of online CSEM; and
- Impact at the strategic and policy level in the harmonisation of EU-wide responses to CSE.
GRACE will apply proven techniques in ML to the referral and analysis process while embracing the technical, ethical and legal challenges unique to fighting CSE. GRACE will leverage resources already in place at Europol and the nine MS LEAs within the consortium. The goal for GRACE is to attempt to provide results early, frequently and flexibly, prioritising easy wins in the research plan (e.g., deduplication).
Unique to GRACE is the development and application of a Federated Learning approach to the challenge of optimising analysis and information flow in a privacy-aware and security-sensitive manner. GRACE will enable cooperation between LEAs in improving their capabilities while harnessing their experiential knowledge.
The results of GRACE will be available to Europol and the Member State LEAs for unrestricted use in their operations, helping to ensure their future technological autonomy.