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The Informatica blog - Authored by Claudiu Popa

Not on MY Internet!

Another nest of vipers has been uncovered this past week. Over 100 people involved in sharing ‘extreme’ rape videos of babies and children have been arrested with up to 200 more suspected in an operation spanning 22 European countries.
The scale of the crime is staggering. One individual was found to possess over 120 thousand gigabytes (120 terabytes) or 36000 hours of horrific video footage. Over 2400 storage devices were confiscated in Denmark alone. The vermin caught by Europol (the joint police organization for the European Union) in the other 21 countries ranged from Internet stalkers to facilitators in elaborate schemes to lure, prepare and eventually abuse young children. They joined the 184 child rapists arrested earlier this year (this time from 30 countries) in an operation that also rescued at least 230 abused children. 670 more suspects were identified out of a mindblowing network of approximately 70,000 pedophiles.
The numbers are more than sufficient to enrage, shock and sadden sentient beings. According to Statistics Canada child porn offences have increased 26-fold between 1998 and 2008. A 2009 Cybertip.ca report reviewed 15600 global sites hosting child porn and found that almost 60% of the material involved children under the age of 8, with over 68.5% showing extreme sexual assault, a description of which is provided in the linked document, but one I cannot bring myself to reproduce here.
Given the size of the aforementioned arrests one could conclude that Europe has a massive problem, and it clearly does, but the problem is certainly not localized. The big picture painted by The Child Sexual Abuse Images report pins a full 57% of content on the United States, with the shameful inclusion of Canada in second place as hosting almost 13% of the global content.
This summer, U.S. federal agents charged 72 people for their active involvement in a child pornography ring. This particular private message board was a self-described global 'community' of at least 500 pedophiles dedicated to the relentless victimization and exploitation of children 12 and under. The site was a glorified “private library storing massive amounts of images of child sexual abuse and videos of children under 12 years old being molested” according to a Department of Justice spokesperson. Indeed most of these sites do not limit themselves to the reproduction of images and videos of children whose innocence and dignity have forever been stripped. They also occasionally involve live broadcasts of sexual abuses, potentially with an interactive component, meaning that spineless watchers can dictate the despicable events that unfold.
These monsters operate “under the radar” in chat rooms designed to protect their privacy as they indulge in their favorite past time: sharing their unrestrained sexual appetite for young children “without committing any specific offences”, according to Europol. As they strengthen their connections, they move to increasingly confidential methods of communication, making activities almost impossible to monitor.
The distributed nature of the Internet, strong encryption methods, obscure chat systems and a single-mindedness of purpose make for an effective combination, allowing these vile creatures to carry out their reprehensible actions undetected and to a large extent, in private. The expansive, well meaning, living organism that is the Internet is thus shamelessly hijacked and used to perpetrate the worst kind of evil, creating an indelible record of millions of instances of children’s lives being irreversibly shattered.
And therein lies the problem. Because it takes more than unrelenting intensity and coordinated efforts on the part of law enforcements and analysts, even cases that appear strong on the surface can be undermined by technicalities and failure to properly secure evidence.
In effect, what appears to “merely” be a complex international collaboration of law enforcement organizations to collar some criminal clique is in fact an almost incomprehensibly elaborate choreography between multiple groups of specialized individuals. Police officers at different levels and areas, privacy experts, legal professionals, informants, phone companies, Internet providers and much more commendable individuals in many jurisdictions all work with unflinching resolve to bring it all together – if they can.
But they could easily be forgiven for flinching, because these heroes aren’t automatons performing their professional duties. They’re also dealing with what must be nothing short of tsunamis of emotion and mountains of self control shadowed by the spectre of the grim reality that a simple slip-up, knee-jerk reaction or human weakness could undermine the entire operation. And that can’t be allowed to happen. Indeed I recall hearing about the importance of therapy and relaxation in the heavy lives of all involved, many of them parents to innocent creatures like the ones whose images they need to individually view, review, analyze and properly present while balancing emotion, patience and professionalism as they persist through what must seem like an interminable process through the legal system.
And that’s the best case scenario. We don’t hear much of the botched attempts, the failures to get to the data before a kill switch is triggered, erasing important evidence, the inability to decrypt critical content and the inability to secure the resources to see it through before running out of resources or jurisdiction. We do hear about what seem like insignificant punishments that hardly fit the crime (an absolute maximum of 10 years imprisonment according to Bill C-22. We imagine plea bargains, subterfuge and deceit, to be followed by appeals, media circuses and eventual silence between events. And we don’t hear much about the kids. Why? Because we can’t find them. The 230 that were rescued this year were an incredibly rare exception. The heartbreaking reality is that with hosted sites changing their Internet address hundreds of times each day to avoid detection, global efforts to identify and rescue the innocent victims are immensely challenging and largely fruitless.
I have no doubt that part of the anger we feel as mere observers is due to the powerlessness we feel to end this tragedy. And it feels like nothing less than a monumental failure of the human race to control its most twisted and corrupt impulses. In seeing this deluge of subhuman behavior one might be tempted to wonder why it is so prevalent and apparently getting worse. I get it. I've seen Hollywood’s take on it. They're ill. They have urges. They're hurting. But one look at the statistics makes it clear why they won’t get any of my sympathy. And while I’m not a proponent of the death penalty – partly because it would be a damn easy way out – I can entertain the thought that they don’t belong on this planet. And do I want to waste more recycled electrons on the nuances between perpetrators to pinpoint the differences between viewers of the material and producers thereof? No. I do not. I say with unswerving conviction that the former are at least as guilty as the latter, due to the evident fact that their persistent, sadistic, unquenched thirst for more fresh, more extreme and more high definition amorality spurs the demand to which the latter respond. Besides, according to the FBI, 55% of those who view such content also participate in its production.
To a very real extent - albeit at a vastly inferior order of magnitude - we too can realistically count ourselves among the victims, because the scope of the crime is such that our own rights will be the first to erode when serious measures eventually go into effect to combat such this epidemic of galactic proportions. And I’m not even talking about the pedophile priests, football coaches and whatnot.
Is it worth it? I say give me your Nigerian scams, your ridiculous phishing and pharming attacks, your spam and your holiday rush of hackers. I can deal with them. Let loose the financial frauds, the magical cure peddlers, the thieves and the liars. Their serious transgressions are dwarfed by the unspeakable acts of the aforementioned psychopaths. And although I treasure my privacy and control over online activity, I say take them. If only to save one of these innocents who are being savagely assaulted twice over – first by the monster and second by his camera – even as you read this line. What’s more, their victimization only starts there, effectively taking place each time the image is viewed.
A quick news search on the topic yields the sterile words of a bovine media robotically engaged in repeating the sanitized accounts of the latest arrest with a passion oft-reserved to the description of a teenage kleptomaniac caught stealing gum from a variety store. Doesn’t anyone get offended anymore? Are we so desensitized that we can’t afford the continuity of thought to pull together the resolve to report more of these sites and follow through? Does each arrest only deserve one brief mention while each Bieber haircut is hyper-analyzed by thousands of blog entries and related multimedia coverage? I'm certainly not recommending vigilanteism nor am I advocating participation in any active sense, but this issue deserves to be top-of-mind until eradicated. Constant awareness of the problem is, instinctively, something we owe the children we can't immediately rescue, while replacing the topic with the latest Entertainment Tonight headlines almost seems like a betrayal. Another way to put this is that by diverting our attention to less significant topics feels like tolerance. Or are we desensitized because of all the reports of football coaches, pedophile priests and child rapists that make their way across our television sets on too frequent an occasion? Tolerance, desensitization, apathy or whatever it may look like simply can't be. This is too important a cause. That's not to say that the starving children of Africa or the sick and poor of Asia are any less important, but the difference is one that must be underlined. In the case of child pornography and sexual abuse, we're dealing with a kind of evil that is difficult to fathom, and possibly one of the ugliest distortions of the human condition. It's certainly something that we would be too embarrassed to mention on a Pioneer plaque, intended to greet extraterrestrial intelligences with an introduction to the human race.
With the new Bill C-22 (and C-15A) we’re not expected to compound the problem by actively seeking out child pornography (because viewing it is a criminal offence). However, according to the Mandatory Internet Child Pornography Reporting Regulations we (and Internet service providers) are required to report it when we do suspect it (and according to the Cybertip report, it is relatively easy to find, making use of search engine optimization techniques as any other profit-oriented site would).
Instead of creating yet another weather-tracking app – complete with frog and umbrella – shouldn’t we pool our efforts and create new technologies that tag and track these repugnant shapeshifters long enough to get a lock on them? Their vast networks are not a strength but a weakness. They don’t carry out their scumbaggery behind closed doors but seek to share it with others, and that’s when we need to nab them en masse, as demonstrated by this year’s successes. These will no doubt have for effect to cause the rest of the criminals to burrow and take better precautions, but so what? Keep the issue in the news. Tag them. Track them. Make painful, permanent examples out of each and every one of them. It is the very least we can do to them, because without pity nor remorse, they hurt innocent children.
Sort Comments
  • Avatar
    Frank N. Earnest | 01/09/2012 17:21:19
    You wrote: "And although I treasure my privacy and control over online activity, I say take them. If only to save one of these innocents who are being savagely assaulted twice over..." So if I read you correctly: you're willing to give up all of your online privacy and control to law enforcement (and other authorities) in the (mostly blind) hopes that, by doing so, it will catch pedophiles (however defined) and protect some children? Hmm... that sounds noble but naive --I had expected a principled stand in defence of privacy and freedom... but I guess total capitulation sounds much more decisive! Oh - almost forgot - you're also willing to give up everyone else's privacy and control for the same reason(s)??!! Hmmmmm....
  • Avatar
    Claudiu Popa | 01/17/2012 10:02:52
    "my privacy and control over online activity" are easy things to give up since: 1. Preventing even one child from being hurt (I'm talking about the notion, not the verifiability of such a thing) is well worth it and a big #2: 2. The Internet wasn't designed to protect our privacy in the first place, so online activity shouldn't be nearly as sensitive as some make it out to be.

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