Police use face-mapping tools to identify abuse victims

Sophisticated face-mapping software has been developed to identify children depicted in online paedophilic images

The National Crime Squad (NCS) has confirmed that it will be using sophisticated facial-mapping software to identify the children depicted in 60,000 pornographic images obtained through dawn raids on suspected Internet paedophiles. The raids took place on Wednesday morning and were part of the biggest ever international crackdown on Internet paedophiles.

British and Scottish police forces executed search warrants on 12 houses throughout the UK at 06:00 GMT, and seized thousands of files containing images of children being abused. A source close to the international investigation, which is dubbed Operation Landmark, told ZDNet UK that the new software was designed to help trace the whereabouts of the victims and their abusers.

Detective superintendent Peter Spindler, leading the investigation for NCS, said, "This operation has sadly and distressingly brought thousands of new images of abuse to our attention. These young victims need to be identified and protected as quickly as possible."

The IT company Serco was commissioned to develop the face-recognition software for NCS following Operation Cathedral -- an international operation that led to the arrest and imprisonment of the world's largest Internet paedophile ring, the Wonderland Club. All information gathered through the help of the new software will be entered into an international police database. "We hope that the database can be used to identify children who are being systematically abused for the gratification of a small but dangerous section of society," Spindler added.

A combination of existing software has been use to develop the face-mapping tool, and has been designed according to NCS and Interpol specifications. "Until now, most of the face-recognition that has been done on file images has only worked if the picture is exact," said a source. "A number of police databases already contain hashes of known paedophile images, but the moment the picture becomes cropped, it no longer works."

The new software will allow officers at the NCS and the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) to identify abused children who may look slightly different from one picture to another. It will also provide intelligence on the background in the photos, which could be used to determine the room in which the photos were taken, and could hence be linked to the abuser or photographer.

"This is an experimental exercise -- I'm not sure how effective the software is," the source added.

These latest police swoops were carried out in 19 countries throughout the night. Twelve British targets were identified through the operation, and a total of 130 search warrants were executed throughout the four continents involved.

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