Pedophile images online: MEPs call for clarification


Status: 01/28/2022 06:00 a.m

In 2021, the BKA arrested the alleged operators of the Darknet platform “Boystown”, on which images of severe child abuse were exchanged. However, the investigators left the recordings online. This causes massive criticism.

By Robert Bongen and Daniel Mossbrucker, NDR

A group of 20 MEPs from five parliamentary groups in the European Parliament has asked the EU Commission to comment on Europol’s role in the case of the pedo-criminal Darknet platform “Boystown”. Investigations led to the arrest of the alleged backers in April 2021. They were originally initiated by German law enforcement agencies, but were then coordinated by the EU police authority within an international task force.

Joint research by Panorama, CTRL_F and “Spiegel” had revealed that the “Boystown” servers had been shut down, but the images exchanged there, which show serious sexual abuse of children, were left online. Since the photos and videos were on the Internet with normal storage services and not on the dark web, the investigators could have informed the operators of these services and simply had the recordings deleted. This was not done. As a result, pedophiles distributed links to the content in another forum, so that the “Boystown” content was available again just a few days later.

Why didn’t anyone delete the recordings?

The letter to the European Commission Panorama has been signed by MEPs from eleven EU countries. They belong to factions from all political spectrums, namely Greens, Social Democrats, Liberals, Leftists and Right-wing Populists. In particular, the parliamentarians would like to know why Europol did not have the content removed from the storage services in question, although this would have curbed the further dissemination of the “Boystown” content.

They also ask how abuse that is still taking place could be detected and children saved if the law enforcement authorities apparently did not even have the capacity to forward information about confiscated servers to internet companies. Prosecutors from Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, the USA and Canada were involved in the investigation into “Boystown”.

Commission wants to score points with new legislative package

The MEPs’ questions come at a politically inopportune time for the EU Commission. On March 2, the commission plans to introduce a revised bill that would require providers of messenger apps and email services to monitor all messages from their users in order to detect known child abuse images. The plans are controversial because such monitoring obligations weaken the encryption of the services and could thus encourage hacker attacks. Civil rights activists also criticize the invasion of the privacy of innocent people.

Against the background of the “Boystown” events, the MEPs now warn in their letter that the plans could do more harm than good. The filter systems would only find known recordings, but not new material from ongoing child abuse. In addition, the filters are technically error-prone and could bring innocent people into the investigators’ sights.

“Flooding overburdened prosecutors who don’t even have time to view and delete known child pornography with largely false mass reports is irresponsible towards the victims of ongoing abuse,” says Patrick Breyer, who represents the Pirate Party in the EU Parliament. He announced that he would also ask the questions in Europol’s parliamentary supervisory body, which would oblige the EU police authority to provide an answer. One Panorama-The agency has so far left unanswered Wednesday’s inquiry about Europol’s role in the “Boystown” investigation.

Systematic deletion required

In December, the Federal Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), had to answer similar questions to those now being asked by the EU Commission. When asked by the Greens MP Konstantin von Notz why the BKA did not have the recordings distributed by “Boystown” removed from the Internet, State Secretary Markus Richter only answered evasively.

Due to the volume of data, it has not been possible to examine the material so far. The priority is to evaluate the content so that the alleged perpetrators can be brought to justice. A request for deletion only follows afterwards. Panorama– However, research revealed that the removal of the links could be done in parallel with the criminal investigation without destroying evidence.

A spokesman for the competent public prosecutor’s office in Frankfurt am Main shared Panorama with the fact that the investigations in the case complex “Boystown” are ongoing and the four suspects are still in custody. The spokesman did not want to predict whether and when charges would be brought. Together with the statements by State Secretary Richter, this suggests that the “Boystown” content has still not been deleted nine months after it was actually switched off – and that it can still be distributed by pedophiles.

Child and youth psychologists and the Child Protection Association spoke in response to the publications Panorama and CTRL_F in a joint declaration of a “slap in the face for those affected” and a “disaster for the prevention of mental distress”. They urged the Federal Ministry of the Interior and the BKA to systematically delete images showing child sexual abuse.

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