By Andrew Seymour. Ottawa Citizen. November 16, 2013.

OTTAWA — The new frontier for child pornography is the anonymous “deep web” and it will be paid for with hard to track virtual currencies such as Bitcoin, the president of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children told an Ottawa conference Saturday.

Ernie Allen said there has been a “fundamental shift” in human trafficking and child exploitation from the street to the Internet and the use of free and readily available anonymizing software has created a new “hub” for online child pornographers and pimps to conduct their business.

That shift now presents the greatest challenge to law enforcement tasked with trying to track the “sophisticated organized criminals” engaged in what has become the low risk and highly profitable business of trafficking and sexually exploiting children, Allen said.

Allen said an Internet that offers impenetrable anonymity is a “prescription for disaster” and that the time is now to find a way to balance privacy interests and anonymity before it is too late.

Allen was speaking to “Together Let’s Stop Traffick,” an international summit on preventing human trafficking being held in downtown Ottawa and attended by police officers, victims advocates, software developers, non-governmental agencies and others.

“In the aftermath of Edward Snowden and the NSA controversy, there will likely be new restrictions on law enforcement. It is going to become more difficult. And there is a virtual arms race under way to create newer, more impenetrable anonymizing technology,” said Allen.

Allen said the only people using the software who are getting caught are the ones who make mistakes.

“We’re primarily catching the really dumb ones. We’re not catching the sophisticated organized criminals who represent the greatest threat and the greatest risk,” he said.

Allen said his organization recently formed a Digital Economy Task Force that includes Bitcoin, The TOR Project, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others. The task force is preparing a report to help inform lawmakers about the state of the digital economy and its risks.

“The Internet has brought new meaning to the term exploitation,” said Allen.

“A generation ago, someone who had sexual interest in children felt isolated, alone, aberrant. Today he is part of a community. Today he is able to go online and interact with people of like interests, all over the world. They share images, they share techniques, they share fantasies, in some cases they even share real children,” said Allen.

“And what we’re learning there is far more of them than we ever thought.”

Allen said he is observing a move toward increasingly accessible and anonymous virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin, to purchase child pornography. The world’s first Bitcoin ATM recently went online in Vancouver.

“(The Internet) is moving into a new digital economy,” said Allen. “An unregulated, unbanked, digital economy that is characterized by anonymity, by the lack of regulation and oversight. This is an economy that doesn’t belong to any nation, it’s not overseen by any central bank,” he said.

Allen stressed he wasn’t trying to demonize digital currencies.

But like the Internet generally, there is a “dark side,” he said.

Allen said law enforcement is also facing new challenges from anonymizing software like The TOR Project, which reroutes Internet traffic through thousands of different servers to conceal a user’s IP address and makes it near impossible to trace them.

The software was originally intended to be used by political dissidents or journalists in repressive regimes, but has been co-opted by child pornographers, drug traffickers, assassins and pedophiles.

“The greatest challenge is that digital economy funds flow globally, network to network, not nation to nation. More than ever we need global law enforcement coordination and cooperation,” said Allen.

The scope of the problem is staggering, he added.

The International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children’s child victim identification unit, whose job is to identify the children being abused in child pornography images, reviewed 1.9 million images in 2005.

Last year it was 18 million.

Allen said 10 per cent of the children identified in the images are infants and toddlers. A full three-quarters of all children are pre-pubescent, Allen said.

Source:  The Ottawa Citizen