By Jerry Seper
The Washington Times
Law-enforcement authorities in the U.S., Britain, Canada and Australia have begun an initiative to combat rising Internet child abuse, including the creation of a virtual 911 system for emergent online threats to children in any of the countries.
"Online predators pose serious risks to children when they go looking for instant gratification," said Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers, who heads U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). "Through the Virtual Global Taskforce, we are creating an instant response."
The round-the-clock Internet "watch" shifts began last year in Britain and Australia, spearheaded by Jim Gamble, chief executive officer of Britain's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center and chairman of the Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT).
"The Internet is a great place for children to learn, have fun and communicate with their peers," Mr. Gamble said. "But where children go, then child sex predators will follow. That is a fact and one that every police force, no matter where they are, has to face up to.
"The VGT is not only saying enough is enough in cracking down on child sex abuse but is going further in recognizing the global dimension of the Internet and delivering a worldwide virtual police presence," he said. "Now, for the first time, with law-enforcement agencies from major continents coming together we are starting to deliver a truly global response a presence that will say to children, if you feel in any danger, any threat, then report that attack to us and we will deliver that truly 24/7 policing response."
ICE spokeswoman Kadia H. Koroma said that under the 24/7 watch system, one nation's member agency on the task force essentially serves as the on-call, Internet police officer for a portion of each day. After the completion of one shift, she said, the responsibility for the next shift rotates to a VGT member agency from another nation.
Ms. Koroma said investigators have real-time access to one another to respond to immediate threats, no matter where the suspected violation is taking place.
The watch system has produced some early success, including information provided in a chat room and reported to authorities in the U.S. that a person in England planned to molest his children within a few hours. The response involved investigators in both countries, working through a team of ICE and U.S. Postal Inspection Service agents and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center in Britain.
Within minutes of the first report, Ms. Koroma said, police were at the man's house, where they found images of child pornography. She said the response mitigated risks posed by him to other children to whom he had access.
The four countries also are discussing ways for each nation to meet with industry leaders to discuss what technology can be used to make the Internet safer for children.
"We're finding that industry is very keen to be involved in addressing the impact of this crime," said Greg Harrigan of the Australian Federal Police. "They want to make it clear that the use of their technology for any criminal purposes, particularly abuse against children, will not be tolerated."
Staff Sgt. Mike Frizzell of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Canada is "fully committed" to the international effort against the Internet-facilitated sexual abuse of children, adding that VGT "allows us to share best practices in investigative techniques, prevention and education programs."
Created in 2003, the VGT is a law-enforcement network composed of ICE, the Australian High Tech Crime Center, Britain's National Crime Squad, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Interpol.
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International task force works in shifts against online child threates