Investigation into pedophile ring spanning 22 countries results in 112 arrests
Peer-to-peer networks allow users to equally distribute file-sharing capabilities
National High-Tech Crime Unit of the Danish Police spearheaded the operation
Operation Icarus is ongoing, and more arrests are expected
An investigation into an online pedophile ring spanning 22 countries has resulted in 112 arrests and the identification of 269 suspects, following an international investigation. Countless unidentified children are the victims, according to European police services.
The material confiscated in Europol’s Operation Icarus is disturbing and, for many, simply horrifying: images and video showing the sexual abuse of babies and toddlers, uploaded onto the Internet and passed around.
Europol Director Rob Wainwright explained: “It’s the first time that we have tackled a particular phenomenon on the Internet. File-sharing networks and peer-to-peer services make it much easier for child sex abuse suspects to exchange large quantities of material on the Internet.”
Peer-to-peer networks allow users to equally distribute file-sharing capabilities, so that there is no central hub of data, making the sharing of illegal images extremely difficult to trace. Additional encryption software allows users to hide their identities and share files anonymously.
The National High-Tech Crime Unit of the Danish Police spearheaded the operation at the beginning of the year, using its expertise to infiltrate and expose file-sharing networks that were swapping images of child abuse.
The sheer amount of material they collected online was staggering, said Jens Henrik Hoejbjerg, Danish national commissioner of police.
“The complexity is huge and challenging – for example, one of the Danish suspects had 29 terabytes of data that we confiscated. This is an incredible amount of data for our investigators to handle. To put it into perspective, that could hold about 9,000 hours of high-quality video,” Hoeibjerg said.
Europol showed Danish police video of scores of computers and hard drives found in the investigation. The evidence collected by Danish police was then passed on to 26 national police forces across Europe to make arrests.
In many cases, the suspects already had been identified as possible pedophiles. One suspect was believed to have been grooming a 12-year-old child for sexual purposes, but police allegedly swooped in to make the arrest before a meeting could be arranged.
Europol said it was working to identify and safeguard the victims, attempting to trace them from the hours of confiscated footage.
“These children are victims of multiple crimes. First, when the actual abuse takes place. Then, when it is filmed. And, thereafter, every time the images are posted, circulated or viewed,” Cecilia Malmstrom, EU commissioner for home affairs, said in a statement released by Europol.
The countries involved are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Croatia, Norway and Switzerland. Operation Icarus is ongoing, and more arrests are expected.