Microsoft and AOL on Monday joined forces with the United Kingdom’s new Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Center. The alliance could see photographs of convicted pedophiles posted on the Internet.
The organization will bring together law enforcement officers, specialists from children’s charities and industry to focus on high-risk, high-impact offenders.
Specifically, the CEOP Center will deliver a dedicated 24/7 online resource for reporting instances of online child sex abuse and systems to track sex offenders and to disseminate intelligence globally, resulting in victim identification and the direction of those victims toward sources of support.
“Child sex abuse is one of the worst crimes imaginable. Victims are attacked during their most vulnerable years, and the effects can and, often do, last a life time,” said UK Home Office Minister Paul Goggins. “It is a crime from which not only individual offenders, but also organized criminal enterprises can and do profit.”
A Growing Problem
The growth in the distribution of child abuse images continues to rise, according to CEOP. One operation alone seized over 750,000 images.
The latest figures show that over 8 million children and young people have access to the Internet throughout the UK. Of those millions, a high proportion — one in 12 — have met someone offline whom they initially encountered in an online environment, one survey has shown.
“What we have to understand is that behind every image online there is a child in the real world being abused. Behind every online chat there is the potential that your child may be speaking to a sex offender. That is a harsh reality,” said CEOP Center CEO Jim Gamble, noting that parents and youth can reduce Internet risks by putting awareness first.
To that end, CEOP is producing online awareness tools and offline education materials to encourage children to use the Internet safely. Along with tracking and bringing offenders to account, the CEOP Center plans to allocate significant resources toward developing education programs and public awareness campaigns. This will be kick-started by theThink U Know program, which will be launched in schools later in the year to provide education on Internet safety and advice on the very latest security measures.
“The Internet can help people make decisions about what they do with their children and get them more involved in parenting,” Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, told TechNewsWorld. “The community has to sit down and put the goals out there and then make decisions based on those goals.”
Schwartz pointed to the recent killings of two registered sex offenders in Maine as a potential downside to posting photographs on the Web. Joseph Gray, 57, and William Elliot, 24, were killed in their homes by a Canadian man who later shot and killed himself. Maine took down the Web site after the shootings.
Nevertheless, CEOP will also provide specialist operational capability to boost domestic and international raids, and dedicated operators to track and seize assets from those who trade in child abuse images. CEOP is working in partnership with Visa to develop greater sanctions against those who use legitimate payment mechanisms to purchase such images.
CEOP will have an international presence by maximizing the potential of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an alliance between law enforcement agencies from the UK, Canada, United States, Australia and Interpol, by capitalizing on existing relationships and bringing other countries on board. The organization will also offer specialist training services to help personnel in law enforcement, education, prisons, probationary services and child protection agencies.