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Getting to Know Phil Attwood: CRC’s Director of Impact

Philip Attwood joined Child Rescue Coalition (CRC) as Director of Impact in 2023, having previously been a police officer for 22 years.

His last role before joining CRC was a Detective Chief Inspector as the UK undercover policing coordinator for child sexual abuse and exploitation (CSAE). Prior to that, Phil spent four years as the operational lead for the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit for CSAE.

Phil spent most of his career as a detective within Serious and Organised Crime, investigating a variety of offenses, including conspiracy to supply drugs, firearms importation, fraud and organized immigration crime.

Phil is passionate about utilizing covert policing methods to tackle CSAE and has led the innovation through the development of new techniques and tactics to maximize finite resources to target high-harm offenders operating in clear and darknet spaces on the internet.

Working with CRC allows Phil to collaborate with other organizations and utilize technology to support investigators around the globe within the peer-to-peer, file sharing, end-to-end encryption and live streaming spaces.

Should parents be hesitant to post their children online?

Children often have happy achievements that are captured on photograph and film.  Family and friends want to share that success when they have been part of a special event or activity.  However, some children, parents or caregivers may not be comfortable with images being shared.  For example, if a child or family have experienced abuse and are concerned about being traced online.

Personal details of children should be kept confidential to reduce the risk of identification, being contacted or groomed.  Make sure there is nothing to identify a child’s location, such as school logos, road names or names of clubs that your child attends.  Ensure privacy settings are on so that only you or friends can view your profile and turn off geo-location settings as well.

How can parents protect their kids’ online privacy at school?

It is important to be aware of child protection and safeguarding issues when taking imagery of children and schools should have an appropriate policy covering this which includes being able to opt out for any reason. Parents should speak to their children and make them aware a photo or film is going to be taken and explain what the image is going to be used for.

What is the current state of the issue of online child sexual abuse?

It’s a growing problem, and despite best efforts, it’s increasing and growing over time. [Our work is] creating a hostile environment for offenders to create the perception that if you commit offenses online – you will get caught and you will get prosecuted regardless of where you are.

How has the approach to fighting child sexual abuse evolved over time?

It’s a very different landscape at the moment to what I remember of years past. Our technology has to stay ahead of the curve and grow and mature as the technology that offenders are using is also evolving.

What is the biggest threat to children online right now?

The biggest threat is the ease of use of accessing online platforms – the ease of being able to create accounts. The lack of moderation by the tech industry is also worrying. What’s going on in kids’ bedrooms, which frankly, many parents don’t understand. It’s about working together as a family unit to understand what the dangers are, and making sure kids feel comfortable enough to report what’s going on to trusted individuals whether that’s through school or their family network.

 

Equally, the threat of artificial intelligence and virtual reality – these new technologies we’re seeing as a grooming platform for pedophiles – is really worrying. We’re working hard to find opportunities to identify individuals and make the internet as safe a place as we possibly can.

What’s coming next for CRC?

One of the main things is work on the end-to-end encryption environment. We’ve seen lots of headlines from large and small companies moving toward end-to-end encryption using the privacy argument. I’d still advocate that there’s a gap here, and an opportunity for law enforcement and governments to come together and work as a unity to try to reduce the threat of end-to-end encryption. Left unpoliced, it’s a really dangerous environment that we’re going to find ourselves in, and it’s only going to get worse. Working on the identification of offenders in those environments is massively important.