About 50 individuals suspected of being cyberpedophiles sharing “appalling” material have been arrested in Canada for two years as part of an international investigation, launched in 2019 by the government of New Zealand, whose leads have been led to predators from all over the world. The case revives the debate on the role of web giants in the fight against child pornography.
Indeed, it was an electronic service provider who first alerted the authorities. The company had realized that tens of thousands of offenders were using its services to share “some more gruesome and devastating content about child sexual abuse online,” the ministry said Wednesday. Interior of New Zealand by press release. In all, some 90,000 user accounts were then identified by its investigators.
The name of the web provider has not been officially disclosed. It is a cloud storage service, a space host on cloudsin common language.
The ensuing police operation, dubbed “Operation H”, involved police forces from around the world, including the RCMP, Australian Federal Police, Europol and Interpol. “This is the largest and most challenging online child sexual exploitation operation since New Zealand,” according to the Federal Child Cyber Exploitation Enforcement Squad. this country. Worldwide, 832 cases have been investigated in this case.
In Canada, police work has resulted, over the past two years, in 47 arrests in eight provinces, some in Quebec, says the RCMP. In all, 186 charges have been filed so far. Twelve children were saved thanks to the arrests, again according to the federal police. The case is still ongoing.
For the Canadian Center for Child Protection, this operation demonstrates the importance of the role of web companies in the fight against the exploitation of children on the Internet.
“We especially note that this whole operation stems from the fact that an electronic service provider took the trouble to alert the authorities. This story shows how important it is for [fournisseurs] are taking the means to monitor the activities of their customers more closely,” said spokesperson René Morin.
There is this downside: “It is worrying to see the proportions that the problem may have taken before being detected [90 000 comptes dans le cas qui nous concerne]. It is here that our efforts to get public authorities to regulate the digital space more rigorously take on their full meaning. »
In Canada, the law obliges any company offering Internet services to declare to the police the images of sexual exploitation of children of which it is aware. But nothing obliges the industry to do preventive work to detect such images.
And the proactivity of companies is far from certain.
In April 2021, a survey of The Press revealed that tens of thousands of child pornography images were detected each year on the computer servers of hosting companies in Quebec.
These images, 71,000 in three years, were discovered not by the industry, but by the Canadian Center for Child Protection. All on websites hosted in the Quebec data centers of companies such as iWeb, eStruxture or OVH. In response to questions from The Press in 2021, these companies essentially indicated that their role was limited to providing a platform to create or host content, not to verify said content, adding that they did not have access to the data. An assertion contradicted by experts.
“The hosts, they don’t want to get involved in what their users are doing. But from a technology perspective, in the vast majority of cases, they have access to the content. It’s their infrastructure,” explained Jean Loup Le Roux, cybersecurity and privacy expert at the time.
“To see what is happening, you have to be proactive,” added criminology professor Francis Fortin, from the University of Montreal, a former cybercrime analyst at the Sûreté du Québec.
- Number of reports, complaints and requests for assistance regarding cases of cyber sexual exploitation of children received in 2020-2021 by the RCMP. An increase of 510% compared to 2013-2014.