LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 22:  Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt arrives ahead of a Social Reform meeting at 10 Downing Street on November 22, 2016 in London, England. Ministers For Health, Transport, Business, Justice, Work and Pensions and the Home Office met for a Social Welfare Meeting this morning. The health and social care regulator, the Care Quality Commission, has recently warned of a social care system close to tipping point. A&E units are struggling to cope as elderly people are being admitted to hospital as they can't access adult social care packages that would keep them at home.  (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

British Minister Thinks Tech Firms Can Just Ban Sexting (They Can’t – Here’s Why)

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By Kieran Corcoran | 4:31 am, December 1, 2016

Jeremy Hunt, one of the least-loved politicians in the UK, doesn’t like teenagers sexting each other – and thinks he has the solution.

Addressing a parliamentary committee this week, the Health Secretary told MPs that tech companies like Snapchat and Facebook could stop the flood if only they “put their mind to it”.

He followed up by claiming “there is technology that can identify sexually explicit pictures and prevent it being transmitted.”

Trouble is… that technology simply doesn’t exist. Hunt was essentially making it up.

Heat Street repeatedly contacted Hunt’s press office to ask whether he had any evidence to back up his assertion – which made the front page of The Times:

Unsurprisingly, we never heard back. Meanwhile, leading tech companies and experts on the front lines of policing criminal content online are pretty clear that there’s no silver bullet.

For example, social media sites like Facebook pay an estimated 100,000 people to manually check through “flagged” content. Search engines rely heavily on metadata and search terms.

Even organisations who work with police to track down child pornography online can’t automatically scan for it.

Instead they use a sophisticated tagging function which can track photos around the web. But this only works after they’ve been identified manually, and would be useless at stopping images being sent in real time.

A spokesman for the Internet Watch Foundation – which painstakingly tracks illegal abuse images online and has them removed – told Heat Street: “We are not aware of any technology that can do this.”

Hunt has been widely ridiculed – including by tech experts at The Register – for essentially trying to scapegoat tech companies for the social problems caused by sexting.

And even if he could unilaterally turn off the sexting functions of a teen’s phone, it remains a huge open question about whether the government should intervene so massively in its citizens private lives.

But, thankfully, we can leave that question to one side for now in favour of insisting that one of the people running the UK gains some basic digital literacy.

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