Kiwis bombard banned child-porn websites

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 24/11/2013

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Experts say New Zealanders seeking child pornography are increasingly demanding younger victims and more violent abuse.

"Some people confuse these images as being virtual, but they are real images, they are crime scenes," said Alan Bell, national director of ECPAT, which is dedicated to ending the commercial sexual exploitation of kids.

Last week the world's two biggest search engines, Google and Microsoft, announced a crackdown on online paedophiles, introducing new search filters and technology to wipe indecent videos.

In New Zealand, a bill creating tougher penalties for online child sex abuse trading passed its first reading in Parliament last Thursday.

The Department of Internal Affairs has already blocked 34 million attempts within New Zealand to access at least one of 582 child sex abuse sites blocked by government filters since 2010.

Although many of these attempts are generated by pop-ups, malicious software and a small group of heavy users, the sheer number was described by one cyber security expert as "mind-boggling".

And the number is rising, with roughly a million requests a month within New Zealand being blocked in the first half of this year.

Dozens of Kiwi internet users even protested after their access was blocked, telling the department it was "just for fun" and they would "not act on it". All of their appeals have been dismissed.

Steve O'Brien, the department's manager of censorship compliance, said one user had threatened to abuse children if the block wasn't lifted.

However, while the stream of blocked requests was huge, the actual number of people consuming child sex abuse material in New Zealand was small and most of them were being caught, he said.

Detective Senior Sergeant John Michael, head of online child exploitation unit Oceanz, said police were uncovering online child exploitation in New Zealand two or three times a week.

This included Kiwi child victims, who had been groomed online from the other side of the world.

Globally, the abuse was becoming more disturbing and depraved, often featuring babies and young children being tortured.

"We are seeing bigger and bigger collections and more and more brutal," he said.

"It just shows you the level of depravity out there."

The rise of fast internet access, particularly on mobile, was making the trade in illegal images easier.

"It's easier for everyone, including the bad guys."

Bell said there was a "steady demand" in New Zealand for images of child sex abuse. People that viewed the material were predominantly men but otherwise didn't fit any type, ranging from young to old, teachers to tradies.

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He was also sceptical that law enforcement efforts and promises from Google would stem the flow of videos and images while the demand remained high. "We need education and awareness to address these attitudes."

Since the government filters were introduced in 2010, ECPAT have received alerts from the public about between 8000 and 10,000 potential child sex abuse sites, all of which were passed on to the department.

"People just come across these dubious sites in pop-ups and searches. There has been a constant flow."

NZ'S WEB FILTER

The digital child exploitation filtering system was introduced in March 2010 to make it more difficult to access child sex abuse images online.

Run by the Department of Internal Affairs, it blocks web users from accessing sites that are known to contain images or videos of child sex abuse.

When it was announced, some internet groups raised concerns that it would slow connection speeds and be used as a cover for broader censorship.

At last count, 582 sites were blocked, although a handful of pornographic sites deemed not to have child abuse images have been unblocked.

Nearly all New Zealand internet providers have now signed up to the filter, covering 2.5 million connections.

The filter is is not used to track child sex image traders and attempts to access these sites are anonymous.

- Sunday Star Times

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