Covert operation exposes surge in online trafficking of child sexual abuse material.
A month-long covert online surveillance operation code-named P-Hunt_20.2 has culminated in the arrest of 41 persons from across Kerala on the charge of “seeking, collecting, browsing and downloading” child pornography, according to the State police.
The police also found vast caches of videos and pictures of minors stored in the mobile phones, pen drives, hard discs, tablets and laptop computers seized from the suspects.
The raids appeared to have exposed the dark underbelly of life in the time of the contagion.
Additional Director General of Police and head of the Countering Child Sexual Exploitation (CCSE) team, Manoj Abraham, told The Hindu that the confiscated content included videos and images captured furtively, mostly on mobile phones, in domestic environs during the COVID-19 period in Kerala.
The police also found child sexual abuse material (CSAM) content sourced from security cameras at homes and in flats and images and videos of children harvested from webcams. Mr Abraham said the flood of new CSAM content online also indicated a rise in child abuse in the State.
Another officer said the cases detected was merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. He said child abuse could go unreported since children have little contact with their classmates or teachers due to the restriction on in-person schooling. Some of the CSAM was possibly from households hit by domestic violence or parental alcohol or drug addiction or impaired adult supervision.
Investigators said the stay-at-home circumstances impelled by the COVID-19 pandemic had resulted in increased internet usage. A flip side of the situation was a worrying surge in internet search engine queries related to child pornography.
Investigators at the Kerala Police Cyberdome tracked and identified persons who obsessively downloaded, disseminated or traded child CSAM over multi various social media platforms.
They used a mix of surveillance software, social engineering techniques and deceptive social media identities to insinuate themselves into the clandestine child porn sharing circles.
The “darknet” was the platform of choice for posting, harvesting and disseminating CSAM. The police also stumbled upon What’s App and Instagram groups, with unusual names such as Corona Life and Gold Garden, that specialised in sharing images and videos of children. The accused persons came from varied social and economic backgrounds and different age groups.
State Police Chief Loknath Behera supervised the covert operation code-named P-Hunt_20.2. IG, Crime Branch, S. Sreejith, IG, South Zone, Harschitta Attaluri, and IG, North Zone, Ashok Yadav, coordinated the arrests and seizures.