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Law enforcement agencies from 26 European countries, supported and coordinated by Europol, have carried out a major crackdown against online child sex abuse file-sharing networks. ‘Operation Icarus’ – that is the name of the joint actio – final results account for 112 individuals arrested and 269 more identified as suspects, spread across 22 out of the 26 involved countries.
These numbers are only a fraction of what the investigators hope to accomplish in the future: house searches have allowed seizing a lot of materials, expecially videos, and police officers are confident forensic examination will support follow-up investigations and possible prosecution of offenders. However, this operation has already uncovered previously unknown networks of child sex offenders operating on different internet channels.
This operation shows how the internet is helping offenders to develop better techniques for sharing images on a global basis and for protecting their identity.
The problems involved are becoming harder to police and call for sustained efforts by policy-makers and law enforcement agencies to ensure that society’s response remains strong and agile in this area. Europol is committed to playing a leading part in this work through its unique capabiliites to develop intelligence and digital forensic skills across Europe and through the coordination of major international operations.
“This is the latest major success in over 10 years of Europol supporting law enforcement agencies in Europe in their fight against child sex abuse online”, commented Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol.
Investigations are ongoing and more arrests are expected. Special focus will be on identifying the producers of the material, the suspects and their victims. Among those arrested for downloading illegal material was one who is suspected of grooming a young child, and was arrested before being able meet ths child face to face.
Operation Icarus represents a first-timer after the signing of the new action plan of the COSPOL Internet Related Child Abuse Material Project (CIRCAMP), an initiative by EU police chiefs led by Belgium and funded by the European Commission. CIRCAMP includes countries like Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, plus the two European supranational police forces, Europol and Interpol.
The joint operation was actually initiated during a CIRCAMP meeting at the start of 2011. It was agreed that the National High Tech Crime Unit of the Danish Police (DK NITEC) should be the lead country and carry out the investigations because of its expertise in illegal material exchange through file sharing systems, known as peer-to-peer. After the collection of intelligence by the Danish National Police, an operational meeting was organised at Europol in September 2011, to disseminate intelligence packages to the involved EU Member States and countries with a Europol operational agreement.