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1st Mar 2024

EU and US joining forces on Internet child abuse

  • The number and cases of online child exploitation is spreading throughout the EU (Photo: Francesco Guarascio)

Law enforcement authorities in Europe and the US are joining forces to help stop online child abuse.

A recent joint investigation by authorities on both sides of the Atlantic led to the arrest of some 245 people.

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"We rescued 121 children in the process of those arrests and investigations, which is obviously a significant number of people, sadly that is just a fraction of what we do in this area," John Morton, director of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told EUobserver on Thursday (10 January).

The case initially involved a 16-year-old American boy who had solicited advice online on how to rape an 11-year old girl.

The gruesome story ended in his arrest, as well as many others after Danish police spotted an image online taken from a moving vehicle. The image depicted a sunflower sign in the background, a feature unique to road signs in the state of Kansas.

US agents then swept the Kansas highways until they found the same road sign and eventually pieced together additional information that led to the boy's arrest. He is now in jail.

The case is one of many.

The majority of large-scale arrests in the EU are concentrated in the east and north of the Union. But Morton puts this down to intense police co-operation.

"This by no means is exclusive," he said.

Morton said nabbing European perpetrators who attempt to hide their identities requires prompt and decisive action.

"Obviously governments need to be aggressive in those kinds of cases and we are and we don't apologise for it because it's obviously the right thing to do," he said.

His team helped lead the Dutch to last year's arrest of Robert Mikelsons, a Dutch paedophile who abused 83 children. Mikelsons, who worked at child day care centres in Amsterdam, is now serving 18 years in prison.

His youngest victim was 19 days old.

Europol, the EU's policy agency, says there is a need to establish close working relationships with law enforcement agencies and Internet service providers (ISPs) to crack down on the crime.

But Troels Oerting, chief of the new EU cybercrime centre in the Hague, told deputies at a hearing in September last year that some ISPs were charging €25 for each IP address demanded by authorities.

"In a good solid case on child sexual abuse, we might have 1000's of IP addresses," said Oerting at the time.

One country, he noted, was unable to cover the costs, while another refused to pay.

An EU directive against child pornography, adopted in 2011, specifically requires member states to do everything possible to remove offending sites.

They are also required to block access by Internet users in their territory to pages containing or disseminating child pornography.

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