A NEW APPROACH TO FIGHTING ON-LINE CHILD ABUSE
The Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) was created in 2003 as a direct response to lessons learned from investigations into on-line child abuse around the world. It is an international alliance of law enforcement agencies working together to make the Internet a safer place. The VGT comprises the Australian High Tech Crime Centre, the National Crime Squad for England and Wales, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the US Department of Homeland Security and Interpol. Jim Gamble, Deputy Director General of the National Crime Squad, is the current Chair.
The VGT delivers innovative crime prevention and crime reduction initiatives to deter and prevent individuals from committing child abuse on-line. These compliment the work of existing law enforcement agencies without encroaching into areas that are the responsibility of individual agencies or forces. In recognition of resource constraints, initiatives are low in cost but high in impact. They are also global in scope as traditional concepts of geography and remit do not apply to crimes of this type. To fight on-line child abuse effectively, the VGT believes that a global approach is the only approach.
Recent research conducted by ICM revealed that 89% of British adults agreed that there should be a great deal or fair amount of co-operation between the UK police and international law enforcement agencies to help improve child safety on-line1. The Virtual Global Taskforce provides the ideal platform for delivering improved international co-operation. The mission of the VGT is:
- to make the Internet a safer place;
- to identify, locate and help children at risk; and
- to hold perpetrators appropriately to account.
Since 2003, the VGT has developed and delivered a number of crime prevention and crime reduction initiatives. These include:
- A VGT Website. A new website - www.virtualglobaltaskforce.com - was launched on 26 January 2005. The website acts as a gateway to a wide range of information on how to use the Internet safely, and links to a range of support agencies which advise and support victims of abuse. It sends out a clear message to those who use the internet to search for and share images of child abuse, or to approach children in chat rooms to “groom” them for sexual abuse, that law enforcement is active on-line and that the internet is not an anonymous place. The aim, over time, is for the website to become a “one stop shop” for all information about child protection on-line. It will also facilitate the ability of Internet users to report on-line child abuse in a secure and confidential environment.
- Operation PIN. Operation PIN involves the creation of a website that purports to contain images of child abuse but which, in fact, is a law enforcement site. 1 ICM interviewed a random sample of 1,009 adults aged 18+ by telephone between 12-13 January 2005. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Further information at www.icmresearch.co.uk Anyone who enters the site and who attempts to download images is confronted with an on-line law enforcement presence. The individual is informed that he has entered a law enforcement website, has committed an offence and that his details may have been captured and passed to the relevant national authorities. Since its launch in 2003, Operation PIN has captured the details of individuals from a number of different countries who were actively looking for images of child abuse. However, this is not the primary aim of this initiative. Operation PIN is designed as a crime reduction initiative and its real success has been in undermining the confidence of those who think that the Internet is an anonymous place where paedophiles and other criminals can operate without fear of being caught. Over the coming months, the VGT will be working to refine Operation PIN and make the Internet an increasingly hostile and dangerous place for those seeking images of child abuse.
- VGT Industry Partnerships. The private sector has a key role to play in tackling on-line child abuse. Key industry players are working with the VGT to help make the Internet safer by design. To recognise those companies that are leading the way in promoting safety on the Internet, the VGT is launching an industry partnership initiative. The aim is to recognise publicly good corporate citizenship, support innovative thinking and, ultimately, to reduce the incidence of child abuse on-line. The founding VGT Industry Partners in the UK – Microsoft/MSN, AOL(UK), Vodafone and BT - are working with the VGT to develop this collaboration. Partners will develop mutual understanding within the international on-line child protection community and cooperate on the introduction of best practice for protection of children within the industry.
In 2005, the VGT will build on the strengths and successes of recent initiatives. It will work with industry to refine aspects of Operation PIN, take forward the second phase of development of the VGT website and roll out the industry partnership initiative. The VGT will also deliver a range of new crime prevention and reduction initiatives. These include:
A 24/7 On-line Presence. This initiative, which is being led by the Australian High Tech Crime Centre (AHTCC), involves delivering an on-line reassuring presence on the Internet. This will take the form of a physical presence, for example, an officer at a PC overtly visiting a chat room in much the same way that he or she would walk through a shopping centre, street, park or other public space. Officers in Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA will each perform “shifts” to ensure that this presence is truly 24/7. This initiative is still at the planning stage, although a pilot scheme could be operating by the end of the year.
A "Most Wanted" Initiative. This involves the creation of a page on the VGT website along the lines of the FBI’s “Most Wanted” site. The "Most Wanted" page would include images, or partial images, of paedophiles or suspected paedophiles. The nature of on-line child abuse means it can be difficult to identify where an offender comes from or where an offence is being committed. The
value of the VGT publishing images of offenders means that they can be shared amongst agencies worldwide. This initiative, led by the National Crime Squad in the UK, is currently in the research stage.
A VGT International Summit. In September 2005, the VGT plans to hold a Summit to initiate a frank, open, and global dialogue between industry and law enforcement and to encourage the public and private sectors to come up with some of the solutions to tackling on-line child abuse. This supports VGT and industry work to make the internet safer by design.
Opening up Membership of the VGT to G8 and EU Partners. Over the next 12 months, the VGT will be looking to open up VGT membership to other key law enforcement agencies, in particular from G8 and EU partners.
Ms Mr Jim Gamble / Harriet Cross, National Crime Squad (UK) Deputy Director General.