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GCHQ spies to tackle online child abuse imagery says PM

Controversial spy centre GCHQ will turn its attention to online child abuse imagery under new plans announced by David Cameron.

Britain's spy centre GCHQ will turn its attention to paedophiles and those peddling images of child abuse online under new plans announced by prime minister David Cameron today.

Staff at the controversial intelligence community listening post in Cheltenham will use their expertise to combat child abuse imagery shared on peer-to-peer networks in the 'dark web' or 'deep web' hidden away from the mainstream Internet.

Talking to BBC Radio 2, the prime minister outlined a plan in which the "techniques, ability and brilliance of the people involved in the intelligence community," will be "brought to bear on these revolting people sharing these images on the dark net and making them available more widely."

Brilliance, yes, that's the word everybody's using about the fact GCHQ and the NSA have been spying on citizens and world leaders across the globe.

Attempts to defuse that little political debacle aside, it's good to see what appears to be genuine political motivation to tackle the problem of child abuse from multiple angles. Cameron met with government bodies, police agencies and Internet giants today at a Downing Street Internet Security Summit. Present at the meeting were representatives of Google and Microsoft, which jointly announced new restrictions on search engine results to combat the sharing of child abuse imagery.

Critics argue these big names aren't the ones who can make an impact on the problem. "I suspect that the (Google and Microsoft) initiative announced today will make no difference," says security expert Graham Cluley. "Child abusers don't use Google and Bing to find illegal content. They use software like Tor to visit the 'dark web', which is home to plenty of criminal activity -- including child abuse material."

And that's where GCHQ comes in: Cameron wants to harness GCHQ's roving ears for more positive ends than finding out what Angela Merkel had for lunch.

'Negotiating with the Americans'

"Listening to the Internet service providers, listening to the national crime agency," Cameron told the BBC, "having talked to the team that are going to be negotiating with the Americans to work out how we best bring our joint expertise to bear on this, I'm confident that we can make some real progress."

The privacy implications of the plan have not yet become clear.

US law enforcement agencies recently scored a victory against criminal activity in the dark Web when the FBI shut down Silk Road, an online marketplace used in part to sell drugs.

Is this a better use of government intelligence and surveillance agencies than spying on foreign diplomats? Are you concerned about the privacy implications of Cameron's plan, or is it worth it to make a dent in the trade of child abuse imagery? Tell me your thoughts in the comments or on our Facebook page.

Image: Ministry of Defence via Wikipedia