Month-long 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 people from across Kerala on the charge of ‘seeking, collecting, browsing and downloading’ child pornography, according to the State police.

The police have also found vast caches of videos and pictures of minors stored on mobile phones, pen drives, hard discs, tablets and laptop computers seized from the suspects.

Manoj Abraham, Additional Director General of Police and head of the Countering Child Sexual Exploitation (CCSE) team, told The Hindu on Monday that the confiscated content included videos and images captured furtively, mostly on mobile phones, in domestic environs during the COVID-19 period in Kerala.

From security cameras

The police 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.

Another officer said the cases detected was merely the tip of the iceberg. Child abuse could go unreported since children have little contact with their classmates or teachers due to the restrictions on in-person schooling.

Investigators said the stay-at-home circumstances had resulted in increased Internet usage. There was a worrying surge in Internet search engine queries related to child pornography. Investigators at the Kerala Police Cyberdome identified persons who obsessively downloaded, disseminated or traded child CSAM over 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.

‘Specialised’ groups

The darknet was the platform of choice for posting, harvesting and disseminating CSAM. The police also stumbled upon WhatsApp and Instagram groups, with names such as Corona Life and Gold Garden, that specialised in sharing images and videos of children.

State Police Chief Loknath Behera supervised the covert operation code-named P-Hunt_20.2. Inspector General (IG) of Police, Crime Branch, S. Sreejith; IG, South Zone, Harshita Attaluri; and IG, North Zone, Ashok Yadav, coordinated the arrests and seizures.



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