Censorship unit works with Microsoft to develop PhotoDNA

New technology allows investigators to detect images that exploit children

New Zealand is among the first countries to have access to a technology developed by Microsoft that identifies and removes images posted on the internet that exploit or endanger children.

Internal Affairs minister Amy Adams says the Internal Affairs' Censorship Compliance Unit has been working with Microsoft on the development of PhotoDNA, which will allow investigators to detect and process objectionable images, as well as re-examine the methods they use to review the images.

"New Zealand is one of the first countries in the world to have access to this technology, which gives investigators another valuable tool to help us in the fight against this problem," Adams says. "Millions of objectionable images are circulating the internet and PhotoDNA could help rescue the victims of abuse and find the offenders."

"It will also allow a greater level of information sharing with our international partners as more systems come online that use this technology," she says.

Adams says that during forensic analysis it is common for the Unit to review more than 100,000 image files on one computer system.

InternetNZ chief executive Vikram Kumar said his organisation "fully supports the government in its efforts to stop the exploitation of children and urges it do more," but he was concerned whether appropriate checks and balances were in place.

"The only caution we have is that sometimes what starts off as a really good idea starts being used for other areas which could affect privacy, begin stopping free speech etcetera," Kumar said. "At the moment it's going really well but without checks and balances there would be an opportunity for abuse of these systems."

Kumar added that "it wasn't very clear" in the announcement if the PhotoDNA technology would be linked to the existing online child exploitation filter which was "an area we have had concerns with."

"The ministry seems to be sitting on the fence in that regard," Kumar said.