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thinking of the children « Previous | |Next »
January 17, 2009

Given a limited amount of funding and asked to choose between two options, I wonder whether the public would choose to fund ISP filtering or child porn policing?

Last year Lateline did a story on Operation Achilles, a cooperative investigation between Queensland police and the FBI which successfully tracked down more than 20 people actively involved in producing and distributing child pornography. Among the more disturbing points the story raised was the fact that, in tracking these people over long periods, investigators were seeing the same children, over and over again, growing up in the material they were seeing.

Some of the kids could be identified and rescued, but plenty more could not be found without catching the perpetrators. Tracking these people down takes time, during which, the abuse continues and police bear witness to the process. It's hard to imagine how those doing these investigations cope with the stuff they see all day every day. How do you adequately compensate someone for doing that job?

The FBI were full of praise for Queensland police who have gained a world wide reputation for success stories in this field, and they've done it again in another joint exercise with the UK, Germany and the US, which can't be an easy thing to organise. It's one of a string of such casesover the past couple of years to make headlines, so you'd imagine the various bodies involved, the AFP and specialist state police units, would be awarded with appropriate funding. Wouldn't you?

While the AFP are the main players in these things they have cooperative arrangements with state and international policing bodies, but it just so happens that the Queensland police are better at it than pretty much anyone else, so when the AFP can't handle a case and it's to do with a state other than Queensland you have problems.

According to Stilgherrian's latest Crikey (paywall) piece :

$2.8 million, which the Howard government allocated to expand the Australian Federal Police’s Online Child Sexual Exploitation Team (OCSET), was instead used by Rudd to help create Conroy’s $44.5 million Rabbit-Proof Firewall.

The argument here takes on the Won't Somebody Please Think of the Children set, Conroy's early ammunition of choice against clean feed opposers. This emotive meme has since given way to a less coherent string of emotionally weaker dot points about the vaguely sinister 'unwanted content' and parental technological ineptitude. It's even generated someone strongly resembling a Conroy sock puppet (see comments at Stilgherrian's place).

From Verity Pravda's blog:

Finally, a little note because onroy's line about the purpose of the filter being about "protecting children" has been interpretted as being about protecting children from seeing the images - it isn't. It is about protecting the children who are the subject of the images.

No it's not. Go have a read of the Lateline transcript. The children who are the subject of the images are being tormented by people who won't be bothered one whit by ISP filtering. The main reason they're so hard to track down, and why police have to spend so much time bogged down in their horrors, is that they're technologically light years ahead of little annoyances like filters. The images they swap, which are of actual living children, are heavily encrypted. They've developed their own linguistic codes to avoid detection.

Maybe you're talking about the practice of grooming, but again, refer to the Lateline transcript. Plenty of the subjects of those images are the perpetrators' own kids and others they have easy access to in meatworld. Grooming is among the riskier approaches taken by relative amateurs. I can't be the only parent in the world to have heard kids discussing weirdos pretending to be other kids in chatrooms and on MSN, and teaching one another how to spot them. It would be easier for sickos to wait nine months to get their hands on their own kids than groom a savvy child.

Meanwhile, what does ISP filtering do for the kids police are watching grow up in these images? Precisely nothing. Those kids don't need 'protection', they need more police with the expertise required to rescue them. From Libertus:

In addition, Labor's Budget has delayed the former Coalition Government's planned increase of an “additional 90 staff” members of OCSET by 2009-10 until 2011. The Labor Government claims that its budget will result in “91 additional AFP members dedicated to online child protection by 2011”. However, it is entirely unclear how that could be achieved with a budget of $2.8 million less than the Coalition Government had budgetted for 90 members by 2009-2010. It appears Labor intends that officers be paid less, which would further exacerbate the existing difficulties of retaining technologically skilled detectives and other staff members from hijacking by private enterprise (see Parliamentary Joint Committee 2007 report below).

By accident or design, Australia has some of the best resources in the world for dealing with the serious end of the problem. Yet while we pump squillions into sporting bodies and kiddie health campaigns we redirect funding from the effective to the token. These guys deserve medals and accolades, but we give them Conroy.

So much for evidence-based policy.

| Posted by Lyn at 9:18 AM | | Comments (5)


Darn good points Lyn.

As to the issue of tracking down the kids....
With facial recognition software so darn good, why can't OCSET computers do all the hard work by giving the AFP access to the annual school photos / student travel concession cards, etc that are taken of nearly every kid every year?

"Evidence-based policy"? No evidence of it.

So... any advantage the Conroy/Rudd plan has MUST be seen as political, but even THAT makes no sense. Curiouser and curiouser.

For all I know they do use facial recognition software, but I could hazard a few guesses as to why it would be of limited use.

The perpetrators operate at a global level, so you'd be talking every kid in the world.

The worst of them keep kids captive, so there would be no school photos.

In cases where kids have been kidnapped or are moved around a lot, knowing who they are, or who they used to be, wouldn't help locate them.

There might be political advantages, but any electoral advantages are looking a bit slim. I wonder what people living in the newly ALP regional seats of Qld feel about it?

Rudd gave them Conroy not 'we.' "We' had nothing to do with assigning ministerial portfolios or the mandatory Aussie firewall.

One concern I have seems to be the lack of any basic analysis of the data from siezed child porn cases. There may be analysis going on but it isn't made public.

I suspect that the victims are very much like the child victims of sexual and physical violence everywhere - related to or in the care of the perpetrators and living at the margins of society.

I'll be willing to bet that the victims aren't 10 year old middle class kids from normal good enough families.

If the polcie have all thedata they say we should know thinsg like age of victims, age of perpetrators, money changing hand, countries and suburbs of residence of both, numbers of children, what schools they went to - if at all - previous welfare police contact by either side and so on - pretty simple analysis.

Without looking for a cospiracy - I suspect that the data would should us pretty much what we already know about child abuse and murder - perpetrated by carers who already have a long history of violence and neglect and contact with authorities.

Sadly I think we would find that the boogie man of internet danger to children is largely a myth.

True Nan. Since you mention it, Rudd isn't copping an awful lot of flack for Conroy/Garrett-type unpopular decisions.

At the Libertus link there's a heap of data and analysis brought together in one place, and you're right about the dangerous internet myth.

I can't stomach too much info in this area so am not certain, but kiddie porn seems to be a more specialist, niche activity than your better publicised cases of abuse and neglect. They're more careful to hide their activities than in cases where, for example, the front yard is full of rubbish and kids go begging to neighbours.