Operation Blackface: nabbing Indians spreading child porn via social media

Operation Blackface: nabbing Indians spreading child porn via social media

India, emerging as a source for child pornography with over 25,000 instances of ‘suspected child pornography’ being uploaded ?

‘Operation Blackface’ is on in Maharashtra. It’s a drive to tackle child porn uploaders. It’s a whole new experience for Indian police, tracking child abuse (porn) spread via social media. Meanwhile, FIRs and arrests are taking place of offenders across the country.

In June last year, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) (Amendment) Bill, 2019, widened the definition of child pornography. It now covers any visual depiction, including “photograph, video, digital or computer generated image indistinguishable from an actual child, and image created, adapted, or modified, but appear to depict a child”.

Over 25,000 cases of suspected child pornography material were uploaded across social media platforms in India in the last five months. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in the US shared this information with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

A source within the  Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)  told an English language daily  that the reports show Delhi topping the list when it comes to uploading Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM). Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal are the other top states, the official said.

A senior IPS officer in Maharashtra told The Indian Express that details of 1,700 cases were passed on to the cyber unit of the state by the NCRB. Cases forwarded to the other top states for the last five months — up to January 23, 2020 — were in the same numerical range.

According to the Home Ministry official, several FIRs have been registered and arrests made across the country so far based on the reports provided by NCMEC.

Referring to action taken in his state, the Maharashtra officer said: “We have code-named it Operation Blackface.” State police had to prepare a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to deal with such cases as this was the first time such data was shared, the officer said.

NCMEC is a private non-profit organisation established by the US Congress in 1984 whose mission includes reducing child sexual exploitation and preventing child victimisation.

The centre receives tip-offs from individuals and service providers, and uses a range of software to track child pornography online. This is shared with law enforcement agencies in the form of “Tipline reports”.

“We signed an agreement with NCMEC last year following which they have started sending us their Tipline reports on child pornography videos being uploaded online. As of January 23, we have received over 25,000 such reports over the past five months that we have sent to states across the country,” the Home Ministry source was quoted as saying.

“While Delhi has topped the list of states where most child porn is uploaded, other top states include Maharashtra, Gujarat, UP and West Bengal. Depending upon what the police agencies in these states find in investigations, FIRs will be registered,” the official said.

The IPS officer from Maharashtra said these cases were geo-tagged, and Excel sheets with PDFs attached passed on. “These details were passed on to jurisdictions under which the locations were based. So far, a total of seven FIRs have been registered in the state while several other FIRs are in the process of being registered,” the officer said.

“In Maharashtra, urban centres like Mumbai, Thane and Pune have the maximum number of such cases. Mumbai alone has nearly 500 such incident reports,” the officer said.

“We have sent the details along with the SOP in each case. Tip-offs about such videos are provided by people and service providers,” the officer said.

“Software that trawl social media platforms are also used. These software have an algorithm that looks for nudity and expression of stress on the face of a child following which it is pulled up and passed on to law enforcement agencies. In a few cases, it may turn out that the photo or video is not linked to child pornography… those are not pursued,” the officer said.

SP Beed Harsh Poddar told the newspaper, “In the past week, we have registered two FIRs based on the information provided by the cyber police. We are gathering some more evidence following which we will be making arrests.”

Maharashtra received these details last month while several other states received the inputs earlier. Police in Delhi, Gujarat and Kerala are among those that have already made arrests in some of these cases.

Officials said several of the cases registered will include the amended sections of POSCO.

The NCMEC works with families of victims and law enforcement to deter and combat child sexual exploitation apart from working on other similar issues related to children.

Its website states: “ In 1998…after receiving an increase in reports relating to the online sexual exploitation of children, NCMEC created the CyberTipline. The CyberTipline provides an online mechanism for members of the public and electronic service providers (ESPs) to report incidents of suspected child sexual exploitation….the reports are then made available with the law enforcement for their independent review.”

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