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European Police Force Scours Internet To Find Abused Children

“Please knock. Do not enter,” said the sign on the door of Europe’s heavily-secured law enforcement headquarters in the Netherlands. Inside, detectives were staring at their computers, examining a video of a newborn girl being molested.  They were trying to identify details — a toy, a clothing label, a sound — that would allow them to rescue the girl and arrest those who sexually abused her, recorded it and then shared it on the internet, Politico reports. Even a tiny hint could help track down the country where the baby girl was assaulted, allowing the case to be transferred to the correct police authority for further investigation. Such details matter when police are trying to tackle crimes carried out behind closed doors but disseminated online across the world. Finding and stopping child sex offenders is gruesome and frustrating most of the time — yet hugely rewarding sometimes — said officers at the international task force at the EU agency Europol. 

Offenders are getting better at covering their digital tracks and law enforcement officials say they don't have the tools they need to keep up. The increasing use of encrypted communication online makes investigators’ work harder, especially as a pandemic that kept people at home and online ramped up a flood of abuse images and videos. In 2022, social media giant Meta Platforms found and reported 26 million images on Facebook and Instagram. Teenagers’ favorite apps Snapchat and TikTok respectively filed over 550,000 and nearly 290,000 reports to the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which acts as a clearing house under U.S. law for child sexual abuse material (CSAM) content that technology firms detect and spot. The European Commission in December ordered Meta to explain what it was doing to fight the spread of illegal sexual images taken by minors themselves and shared through Instagram, under the EU's new content-moderation rulebook, the Digital Services Act (DSA).


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