Microsoft joins coalition to track financial trail of child porn traders

Microsoft today joined Visa, Mastercard and Paypal and Europol in setting up a coalition to track and trace the criminals who trade in child pornography...

Microsoft today joined Visa, Mastercard and Paypal and Europol in setting up a coalition to track and trace the criminals who trade in child pornography on the internet through their online financial transactions.

The European Financial Coalition aims to set up a clearing house to share information related to payments for online transactions involving criminal acts with children. Europol is likely to house the sharing platform for national police forces, payment services operators, non-government organisations and others to exchange data.

Launching the initiative today in London, European Commission vice-president Jacques Barrot said the number of European websites that trade in pornographic images of children has risen four-fold since 2003.

He said the European Commission would spend €55m between 2009 and 2013 to make the internet safer for families and children. Some €17m would go to fund pilot projects to fight online crime, including child pornography.

Jim Gamble, who heads the UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), which is a founder member of the EFC, said Internet Watch Foundation research suggests there are 2,500 to 3,000 websites with such pictures, but only around 250 trade actively at any one time.

Conny Svensson, Mastercard's manager for government affairs in Brussels, said criminals are becoming more cunning because of measures the payment card industry has taken to stop trade.

He said some use wire transfer shops, while others divert users to a legitimate website where they pay for innocent goods but also receive a password that allows them to look at or download child porn. He hopes more payment services companies will join the coalition.

Gamble said Ceop was succeeding in using tactics formerly used to track down terrorists in the hunt for paedophiles and child sex traders, because some set up secret or semi-legitimate websites and conducted transactions in secret or in code.

The centre has identified about 50 of more than 300 children rescued from paedophiles from online images, he said.

Gamble said Ceops would use "any method" to infiltrate and attack such groups to "eradicate" child pornography.

Svensson said the problem is international and covers many jurisdictions. This makes law enforcement difficult, he said, but most police forces are more than willing to try.

He said Mastercard is compiling a dossier of all the European national legislation and procedures set down to enable law officers to investigate, prosecute and convict offenders. It will donate this to the "platform" that Europol will set up.

He said the EFC would also debate how to handle trades using stolen or cloned cards, the invasions of privacy that might arise as a result, how to share data without breaking data protection laws, and other technical issues.

A spokesman for the EFC said he expects Europol to use data profiling techniques to identify criminals.

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