Interpol’s ICSE initiative

Source: By Rishika Singh: The Indian Express

India’s Central Bureau of Investigation has joined the Interpol’s International Child Sexual Exploitation (ICSE) initiative that will allow it to collaborate with investigators in other countries for detecting child sex abuse online and identifying abusers, victims, and crime scenes from audio-visual clips using specialised software.

Officials said 11 July 2022 that India is the 68th country to have access to this database and software. Interpol’s website said that on average, the database helps identify seven child victims everyday globally.

What is Interpol?

Interpol is the world’s largest international police organisation with 195 member countries, and is headquartered in Lyon, France. Each member country hosts an Interpol National Central Bureau that connects their national law enforcement to it and in India the CBI is that nodal agency.

What is the ICSE database that the CBI has joined?

The ICSE database uses video and image comparison to analyse Child Sex Exploitation Material (CSEM) and make connections between victims, abusers and places. As of July 2022, over 30,000 victims of child abuse and over 13,000 criminals have been identified by the Interpol using this database and software.

“The database avoids duplication of effort and saves precious time by letting investigators know whether a series of images has already been discovered or identified in another country, or whether it has similar features to other images,” said the Interpol.

Using the image and video comparison software, the investigators attempt to identify locations of markers visible in a piece of media. This can be through the signage nearby, the kind of artwork, photos on a wall, etc. The detectives in all 68 countries of the grouping can further exchange information across the world.

“By analysing the digital, visual and audio content of photographs and videos, victim identification experts can retrieve clues, identify any overlap in cases and combine their efforts to locate victims of child sexual abuse,” the Interpol website said.

What has India done to combat online child sex abuse?

India reported over 24 lakh instances of online child sexual abuse from 2017 to 2020, with 80% victims being girls below the age of 14 years, according to Interpol data. More than 60% unidentified victims were prepubescent, including infants and toddlers. Around 65% of unidentified victims were girls, but severe abuse images were more likely to have boys, the Interpol said on its website.

In 2019, the CBI set up a special unit called the ‘Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Prevention/Investigation (OCSAE)’, for tracking and monitoring posting, circulation and downloads of CSEM online.

Based on intelligence developed by the unit, the CBI started a country-wide operation against the alleged peddlers of online CSEM in India last year. In a crackdown across 14 states, the probe agency carried out searches at 77 locations and arrested seven people in an operation launched on 14 November, Children’s Day, last year. The operation resulted in seizure of electronic data and gadgets showing patterns of money trail and involvement of various offenders.

The operation targeted over 50 social media groups having more than 5,000 alleged offenders sharing child sexual abuse material with some accused based in Pakistan, Canada, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, the US, Saudi Arabia, the UK, and others.

Back in 2020, the cyber wing of the Maharashtra Police had acquired a software from Interpol to track child sex abuse captured on video and in photos.

In 2019, the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, a US-based non-profit organisation, had started sharing tip-offs about child sex abuse with Indian agencies. Received by the National Crime Records Bureau, this information was passed on to the states where the incidents took place, to boost detection of those sharing such content.