WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND (BNO NEWS) -- An international operation has identified more than 50 people in 20 countries who allegedly used popular social networking websites to share child pornography, officials announced on Tuesday. Several abused children have been rescued.
The New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs said it launched an investigation and alerted international law enforcement agencies in October 2010 when it discovered significant amounts of child pornography was being exchanged through social networking websites, including Facebook, Socialgo, and grou.ps.
"It is said that the Internet has no boundaries, but that does not mean that laws do not apply, that people committing offences online will not be identified," said Mick Moran, the head of the Crimes Against Children unit at the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL). He praised New Zealand authorities for leading the investigation.
According to officials, the international investigation has so far identified 55 key suspects in 20 countries, most of whom are now in prison or facing prosecution. The countries were identified as Australia, Bosnia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, England, Finland, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Netherlands, Tunisia, Turkey, the United States and Venezuela.
According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the 55 suspects are accused of actively creating groups on Facebook and the other websites to distribute child pornography involving children under the age of 13. The suspects, which include six individuals from the United States, also actively encouraged the sexual abuse of children through comments or video and photo postings in the groups.
The New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs said twelve abused children were identified and have since been removed from harm. One of the abused children is from New Zealand, but it was not immediately known where the other abused children were located or how old they are.
In May 2011, it was announced that Facebook had begun using an image-matching technology called PhotoDNA to stop child pornography from being shared through its service. The technology was created by Microsoft which has donated it to the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), search engine Bing, file hosting service SkyDrive, and e-mail service Hotmail, among others.
PhotoDNA matches content uploaded to Facebook and other websites against signatures provided by NCMEC, which uses known child pornography to create these signatures. But what makes the program unique to previous technology is that it is still able to recognize photos through its signature even when it has been resized and edited, partly because it recognizes small parts of photos rather than the complete picture.
"Facebook will run PhotoDNA against all photos uploaded to the site, to block the distribution of these images of criminal exploitation," Facebook's Assistant General Counsel Chris Sonderby said in May 2011. It is not known if PhotoDNA played a role in catching the 55 suspects, but officials said some of them had already been identified by Facebook employees prior to the operation.
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