Thu, 08 Oct, 2020 – 07:09
Law enforcement agencies are being confronted with an “overwhelming” amount of online child sexual abuse imagery, with some police units unable to manage, Europol has said.
The EU police agency said there has been a “sharp spike” in the volume of such material during the peak of the Covid-19 crisis.
It said the emergence and growth of encrypted chat apps on smartphones poses a “substantial risk” for police in detecting and investigating online child sexual abuse material (CSAM).
In its Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment 2020, Europol said the year-on-year increase in detected CSAM online continued throughout 2019.
“Law enforcement authorities in the EU see themselves confronted with an overwhelming amount of online CSAM to the extent that it becomes unmanageable for many of the units dealing with this crime,” the report stated.
It said the Covid-19 crisis revealed an “extra surge” in online distribution and that referrals from the public and industry reached “record highs” during the peak months of the pandemic.
Last June, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris warned of a “startling and shocking” increase in referrals of online child abuse material during the lockdown. He said the number of notifications to gardaí had increased by 26% between March 1 and May 31 of this year.
Europol said that paedophiles are availing of increased encryption of communications.
It said previously unencrypted chat applications are moving towards encryption, which poses a “substantial risk of abuse” and will make it more difficult for police to detect and investigate.
Europol said platforms such as Facebook reported a significant amount of CSAM, and added: “If these platforms move to implement end-to-end encryption for their messenger, concerns will rise over the continued ability to identify CSAM on their own platforms.”
It said children have spent an increased amount of time unsupervised online during Covid-19 and were more exposed to potential offenders through “online gaming, the use of chat groups in apps, phishing attempts via email, unsolicited contact on social media, as well as through less secure online educational applications”.
Garda confidential 24-hour freephone child sexual abuse reporting phoneline: 1800 555 222
CARI therapeutic support group: 1890 924 567