Media Release: Global investigation cracks child exploitation network
Release Date: Friday, August 27 2010, 07:07 AM
International law enforcement agencies have combined to dismantle an alleged organised child exploitation network that had been operating via the social networking site Facebook.
A total of eleven people have been arrested as part of a coordinated operation across Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Law enforcement has made six arrests in relation to child abuse image offences in the United Kingdom, including the alleged head of the network. Three arrests have been made in Australia and two in Canada. Investigations are ongoing with the operation currently spanning four continents.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) began the investigation in March this year and has operated in partnership with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Child Exploitation Online Protection Centre (CEOP) in the United Kingdom and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The investigation began when a covert AFP Internet Policing Team member established an online identity on Facebook and was approached by one of the network members. Upon further investigation into the network, referrals were made to overseas counterparts leading to the arrests across the globe.
AFP National Manager High Tech Crime Operations Neil Gaughan heralded the successful operation as a clear demonstration of co-operation between international law enforcement agencies.
“Criminal activity of this type is often described as a borderless crime because there’s no geographical restriction on where offenders may try to target their victims,” Assistant Commissioner Gaughan said.
“Policing in this social networking environment is a challenge, but the cooperation during this operation demonstrates that international law enforcement is united in a global fight against online child exploitation material.
“The investigation should serve as a warning to both social networking providers and users.
“In this case, Facebook deactivated the online accounts of the initial suspects but there were indications that, within hours, the groups were reforming again under new accounts.
“It is important that content service providers including Facebook constantly scan for child exploitation material, and then inform law enforcement of their findings.”
CEOP Chief Executive Jim Gamble said, “This network was made up of people who share an interest in viewing extremely disturbing images of children suffering horrific abuse.”
“All the officers working on this investigation – both in the UK and in Australia, America, Canada and elsewhere – shared a steely determination to safeguard children wherever they were and to bring those involved to justice,” Mr Gamble said.
“Offenders are not limited by their geography and neither are we. We have worked side by side with the Australian Federal Police, the FBI, the RCMP and colleagues in a number of other countries to ensure that no stone is left unturned and no child is left unprotected.
“Project Ocean should send a clear message to others who think that online environments offer them anonymity in their offending. Everything you do leaves a digital footprint and, working together, we will stop at nothing to protect children suffering abuse.”
FBI Assistant Director Gordon M. Snow, Cyber Division, said: “The sexual exploitation of children is a heinous offense, and the FBI is committed to identifying and thwarting online predators, no matter where they live.”
“We work side-by-side with our law enforcement partners around the world to identify and pursue those who produce, possess and distribute sexually explicit images and videos of children.”
RCMP Superintendent John Bilinski, Officer in Charge of the Canadian Police Centre for Missing and Exploited Children said: "The RCMP’s National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre is committed to working with its international policing partners. Project Ocean is a clear demonstration of how international co-operation can help ensure that child sexual offenders are brought to justice."
"One of our most effective strategies against Internet-facilitated child sexual abuse is cooperation. No single agency can deal with this crime in isolation. We continually work together with our partners to ensure the safety and security of children, regardless of where they live."
AFP National Media Team +61 (2) 6131 6333
CEOP Media +44 (0) 870 000 3434
RCMP Media +1 613 993-2999
FBI Media +1 202-324-3691
FACTS & STATS
The operation began in March 2010 when an AFP Internet Policing Team member established a covert online identity in Facebook.
The profile was approached by numerous Facebook users to become ‘friends’ and commenced engagement with these friends.
The engagement identified the network exchanging child exploiting material using Facebook to host the images. Members of the network were identified and referrals were made to the countries they were identified to live in.
- On 2 June 2010, a 33-year-old Victorian man was charged with two counts of using a carriage service to access child pornography material, contrary to section 474.19(1)(a)(i) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth); two counts of using a carriage service to make available child pornography material, contrary to section 474.19(1)(a)(iv), of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth); and possessing child pornography, contrary to section 70(1) of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic). The man will appear in Melbourne Magistrates Court on 6 October 2010.
- On 2 June 2010, a 18-year-old Victorian man was charged with two counts of using a carriage service to access child pornography material, contrary to section 474.19(1)(a)(i) of the Criminal Code Act 1995; two counts of using a carriage service to make available child pornography material, contrary to section 474.19(1)(a)(iv) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) and possessing child pornography, contrary to section 70(1) of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic). The man will appear in Geelong Magistrates Court on 24 September 2010.
- On 15 June 2010, a 27-year-old New South Wales man was charged with using a carriage service to transmit child pornography material, contrary to section 474.19 (1)(a)(iii) of the Criminal Code Act 1995. The man will appear in Wollongong Local Court on 14 October 2010.
The CEOP have arrested and charged six males in the United Kingdom, one of which is the alleged head of the network.
- The 45-year-old Worthing man has been sentenced to four years in prison and served with a Sexual Offences Prevention Order, after pleading guilty overnight at Chichester Crown Court to making (six counts); possessing (one count); distributing (seven counts) and view to distributing (10 counts) child abuse images. He was also found guilty of breaching his requirements on the Sex Offenders Register. The man was arrested by Sussex Police who initiated a specific investigation to gather evidence of his offences. Further police activity lead detectives to identify five additional suspects in the UK and a further nine suspects overseas, with investigations still underway.
- Two UK children have been safeguarded and five further suspected offenders have been arrested in the UK.
Law enforcement agencies have arrested two males in Canada. One suspect has been charged with four counts relating to child exploitation in Canada.
Regarding the second man, the investigation is still ongoing.