Canada: Over two years, Project Arachnid has flagged 10 million images of suspected child pornography - PressFrom - Canada
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CanadaOver two years, Project Arachnid has flagged 10 million images of suspected child pornography

07:55  11 july  2019
07:55  11 july  2019 Source:   thestar.com

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Arachnids (/əˈræknɪdz/) are a class ( Arachnida ) of joint-legged invertebrate animals (arthropods), in the subphylum Chelicerata. Almost all adult arachnids have eight legs, although the front pair of legs in some species has converted to a sensory function, while in other species

Over two years, Project Arachnid has flagged 10 million images of suspected child pornography © Stephen Brashear Seattle lawyer Carol Hepburn represents 18 child sex abuse victims, including five Canadians. Her office receives more than 1,000 emails a month from the U.S. Deptartment of Justice alerting her of images of her clients discovered on the hard drives of defendants they are prosecuting.

WARNING: The content of this story is disturbing and not appropriate for all readers.

The self-described pedophile, under a veil of online anonymity, reached out to his community for wisdom.

In a message posted last month to a chat forum hosted in a dark corner of the internet where images of exploited children are routinely shared, the author issued a call to action: a “pedo plan” for grooming and sexually abusing young girls this summer “while their parents will be at work.”

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Over 300 children who had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Playpen members have been identified or rescued. Tor grants anonymity to its users and thereby is often described as a convenient platform for illicit activities, such as selling weapons, drugs or disseminating pornography .

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“This is perfect occasion for us, to meet (a) nice girl, become a friend, spend time with her, consume her,” reads the June 21 message. “Let’s build knowledge, tactics, PEDO PLAN ... We will build pedo structures and methods of operation that will be successful and safe. We will game the system.”

The message concludes: “Post tips. Share your experiences.” Responses began rolling in.

Over two years, Project Arachnid has flagged 10 million images of suspected child pornography © Justin Tang Lianna McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, speaks as Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale and Ottawa Police Deputy Chief Steve Bell look on during a funding announcement for combating child sexual exploitation on the internet, in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 7, 2018. The exchange is among millions of messages swept up by a web crawling tool developed by the Winnipeg-based Canadian Centre for Child Protection that ferrets out online child pornography in an effort to remove it from the Internet. Scanning 12,000 images per second, the two-year-old tool — called Project Arachnid — has scanned nearly 80 billion images and flagged 10 million as suspected images of child sexual abuse. It has also gathered millions of words shared between pedophiles detailing their strategies and techniques for grooming and abusing children.

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“This is beyond deeply concerning,” said Lianna McDonald, executive director of the centre. “Doing the work we’ve done for 20 years, we had no idea the level of depravity and the way in which these offenders are so open about harming and victimizing children, let alone the sharing, schooling and encouraging of one another. It exceeds anything that we could have imagined.”

Images capturing the sexual abuse suffered by Michael, an Ontario man in his late 20s who was exploited beginning at age 10, remain actively traded online — a source of ongoing victimization, he says.

“It’s a constant reminder of my past,” says Michael, whose real name is being protected. “There’s not a day that goes by where I’m not thinking somebody could be out there looking at it. It’s a constant battle for me.”

He says he repressed the experience as a young man out of embarrassment until police contacted him in 2011 after finding his images online as part of a child pornography investigation.

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“I showed up to the police station and they showed me videos and pictures. He had a webcam.”

The volume and nature of online child pornography harvested by Arachnid show how the harm suffered by many victims “never stops,” says Carol Hepburn, a Seattle-based lawyer who represents 18 child sex abuse victims, including five Canadians.

Her office receives more than 1,000 emails a month from the U.S. Department of Justice informing her of client images it has discovered on the hard drives of defendants being prosecuted for child pornography offences. And that doesn’t include Canadian cases or state or local prosecutions.

“It turns my stomach that this stuff is out there on the Internet and that what can be done to scrub the Internet of that vile material is not being done,” Hepburn says.

A 2016 analysis of 43,762 child pornographic images and video collected by Cybertip.ca, Canada’s national tip line which is also operated by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, found 78 per cent depicted very young, prepubescent children under 12 years old. Of those, 63 per cent were under the age of 8. And nearly 7 per cent were babies or toddlers.

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The message calling for a “pedo plan” last month prompted a string of supportive ideas from chat forum participants.

On June 23, a poster calling himself “DryBone” offered his grooming technique: “Put yourself in a repetitive and familiar place where you hold a trusted position. ie, a good friend’s home, or a live-in situation with a lady who has a daughter, etc.”

On June 29, “ChesterM” added: “I always have Playboys, Nudie magazines, sex ed books just lying around ... and then just play it by ear, pay attention to what the child is interested in.”

Another follower adds: “I am working on one, pedobros. Wish me luck.”

Contained in Arachnid text messages reviewed by the Star are fears among pedophiles about being caught and how to ensure secrets are kept by their victims.

“How do you impress upon the child the need for *absolute* perfection for never saying a single word and never once slipping up on her/your story, without veering into scary territory? I’m a pro at keeping secrets but a kid? That needs some serious work...The consequences are brutal.”

Another writes: “If I have sexy times with a child, I might get caught when the child speaks out. Or I might get caught later, maybe years or decades later, when the child, now adult, speaks out. That’s the personal existential threat.”

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Some of the pedophiles online are philosophical, arguing they contribute to the lives of the children they groom.

“For all the hatred that the press and the police throw at us, it’s a shame they can’t understand that we, pedophiles, are often the high point, the only sanctuary in some child’s life,” reads a December 2018 post. “If we’re found out, the kids get sentenced to hell, while we only go to prison.”

Some posts express a sense of shame and self-reflection.

“Sometimes I feel bad for grooming kids,” writes “Vanos.” “Most preteen girls really love intimacy ... It can be tough to know when to draw the line.”

Perhaps the most disturbing messages argue for the acceptance of sex with children by their parents.

“It maybe controversial but I believe it is the duty of a father to take the virginity of his daughter,” writes “LittleAlice.”

“Who better than a loving daddy to lead her into her first sexual awakening, the one who deeply loves and cares for her, someone invested in her future well being.”

A global survey of child sex abuse survivors conducted by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection has found 55 per cent of 150 respondents cited the involvement of family members in their abuse.

Once identified by Arachnid, the centre sends notices to companies hosting it on their servers requesting that it be removed. To date, more than four million removal notices have been sent to around the world.

Most often, companies co-operate, removing the material within 72 hours. Some companies don’t, choosing to leave the material online, McDonald says.

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“It is shocking to witness technology companies that seem to completely turn a blind eye to this epidemic by ignoring notices requesting the removal of child sexual abuse material. We ask ourselves, how is this allowed?”

Arachnid is attracting growing international interest. In addition to federal funding in Canada, the project received funding from the U.K. government and seven other child abuse tiplines around the world — in the U.S., Sweden, Columbia, Finland, Croatia, Germany and Australia — are using the technology.

In an effort to raise public awareness about the scope of child sex abuse and the lack of co-ordinated industry response, the centre is hosting a public installation in the Stackt Market in Toronto from Friday to Sunday this week. Lolli, The Exhibit Nobody Wants to Talk About will feature 10,824 lollipops — a common term offenders use to describe child pornography victims — representing the number of images Arachnid identifies every 12 hours.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can call 211 or visit 211ontario.ca to reach a helpline and online database of Ontario’s community and social services.

Robert Cribb is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Reach him via email: [email protected]

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