Europol and a number of its partner law enforcement agencies have launched a new initiative to combat online child sexual exploitation and abuse.
The Police2Peer scheme will see forces in a number countries use file sharing networks to inform and deter those who consume and distribute indecent images and videos of children being sexually abused.
With the support of Europol and EMPACT – the European multidisciplinary platform against criminal threats project – officers will go online to warn internet paedophiles of the consequences of their actions, and explain how they can get help to stop viewing child abuse material.
The programme will see police upload files that appear to contain child abuse content to torrent platforms. When a user starts to download these, they will be targeted with information designed to make them stop and seek help.
Online paedophiles identified as part of the initiative will be pointed towards a website with links to help resources. In a statement, Europol made clear that information on visitors to both the site the third-party services it links to will not become part of any criminal investigations.
Bjørn-Erik Ludvigsen, of Norway’s National Criminal Investigation Service, commented: “Law enforcement will no longer accept children being repeatedly re-victimised through their abuse being shared to and from users on peer-to-peer networks.
“Through EMPACT, we are making it absolutely clear that these networks are not a safe place for those exploiting children. They may encounter the police each time they upload or download this material.”
Flemming Kjærside, of the Danish National Police’s Cyber Crime Centre, said: “Large amounts of illegal movies and photos of abused children are shared on these services, and we are trying to prevent this. If you obsess about sex with children, there is professional help available.”
File sharing services have for years been one of the easiest ways for paedophiles to access indecent images and videos of children online. While Europol stresses that people who access this type of material face substantial risk regardless of their physical location, the initiative suggests that some law enforcement authorities accept that prosecuting every online paedophile is a near-impossible task.
The new scheme was announced days after the UK’s most senior child abuse officer said that British police do not have the resources to go after every person identified as having accessed paedophile material online.
Speaking with the Times, Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, said only paedophiles who pose a direct physical threat to children should face prosecution, and that those who access indecent images or videos of children online should be offered counselling.
His comments attracted a high level of criticism, with some child abuse experts pointing out that it is difficult to assess whether somebody who views child abuse material online might go on to physically assault a minor.