Operation P-HUNT 20.3: How the CCSE of the Kerala Police is countering countering child sexual exploitation
Thiruvananthapuram, Dec 28: The biggest impact of the COVID pandemic, apart from the Health issues, has been on online crimes against children and this has been flagged by the Interpol over the past ten months. The restrictions inside residences and lack of free movement has led to huge increase in internet activity all around the Globe, thru online classes, work from home, Digital banking etc and increasing use of social media. In short, the lockdown has led to increasing digital usage, which in turn has had a totally different impact on cyber crime trends, particularly in relation to pornography and child crimes.
Kerala Police CCSE (Countering Child Sexual Exploitation) Team, functioning under Cyberdome, understanding the gravity of the problem, has for the last three years, embarked on a sustained digital analysis of the virtual trends and these problems, particularly during the Pandemic period and after identifying the culprits a special operation titled P-hunt was launched, which has been highly successful and over the last couple of years more than 525 cases have been registered and more than 428 accused have been arrested for possession of CSAM.
The current basic trends that can be derived in the behaviour of internet users, in Kerala, is that there has been a lot of deterrent effect due to the hyper active work of the CCSE cell and due to the arrests and registration of cases. But in many cases these crimes are related to mental addictions that require treatment, and in the absence of the same, there are trends of repetition of offences or the accused coming back to the crime, more prepared, with better tools of anonymity etc. So after every two months we again see the trend going up and a spike in such cases against children.
A familiar trend is found in porn groups operating over WhatsApp and Telegram and number of such groups have increased drastically during this period. Due to the police action through P hunt drives, the accused now watch the video and delete it using specialized software to evade detection. They also have started formatting their phone every three days. Use of malwares to activate the webcams of the victim and to steal information of children has also been reported in certain cases.
Understanding the gravity of the problem and the fact that children are being continued to be exploited, the CCSE cell of Kerala Police went into a high tech mode, to identify the persons downloading/ uploading CSAM material from the internet. IP addresses were collected using specialised software and persons sharing such pictures on social media handles were traced using different tools. Apart from this the Tipline reports received from NCMEC (Through NCRB) were also analysed and identified. Many groups operating on Telegram/Whatsapp such as Sukhalokam, Incest Lovers, Schooooool, Just fresh chat Naked Eyes, Bi/Gay Group,Incestzz&cucklodzz,Thenoorum Enthapazham,Teen Girls,Boy & Boys sex, operating with more than 400 odd members each from the State, were identified and listed out.
As a part of this covert drive around 596 such locations were identified throughout the State and a covert operation named P-HUNT_ 20.3, was planned to bring the culprits to book. The information was then collated and passed on to 320 teams under the District Police Chiefs, having members of cyber cells, technical experts and women component.
Under the operational supervision of the District SPs, simultaneous raids were conducted throughout the State, on Sunday the 27thof December 2020, from early morning onwards.
The raids were highly successful and as a part of the operation, the teams could seize 392 devices in 339 cases registered- which include Mobile phones, Tab, Modems, Hard Disks, Memory Cards, Laptops, Computers etc. with graphic and illegal videos and pictures of children. The distressing part of the same is that many of the videos/pictures appear to be of local children, ranging in age group of 6 years to 15 years, Manoj Abraham IPS Additional Director General of Police & Nodal Officer, Cyberdome said.
Based on the recovery of the devices with the CSAM material, 41 arrests were made and this includes youth working in good professional jobs and most of them are IT savvy, which is the reason why they were using all kinds of encrypted handles to upload and download the material. Some are suspected to be involved in the trafficking of children also as there are many chats to this effect in their devices, Manoj Abraham also said.
In the raids conducted all over the State, a total number of 339 cases were registered all over Kerala, Abraham also added.
The details of rest of the people involved in circulating these images and videos are being further collected. Strong action will be taken against all the individuals involved in this racket, continuing our policy of zero tolerance in these matters. The technical assistance for the collection of information was led by Syam Kumar A , Operations Officer, Cyberdome and he was assisted by Renjith RU, Azarudeen A, Vaisakh S S, Satheesh S, Rajesh.RK, Pramoth A , Rajeev RP and Syam Damodharan all members of the CCSE Cyberdome Squad.
The State Police Chief had constituted the "CCSE( Counter Child Sexual Exploitation) Unit for Kerala Police'' with special emphasis on preventing online Child exploitation and child pornography on the net. This Unit has become fully functional from January 2020 onwards and works full time on preventing and detecting online crimes against children. The Team works in close contact with the "INTERPOL-Crimes against Children Unit and the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC). We are also tied up with International Organisations like "We Protect", India Child Protection Fund (ICPF),Cyber Peace Foundation, Project VIC, Australian e-Safety Commissioner, Child Rescue Coalition, Avia Tor, Bodhini etc and a host of local organisations with a common objective of Protecting children from abuse.
It should be noted that as per the current law, viewing, distributing or storing of any child pornographic content is a criminal offence can result in, up to 5 years imprisonment and up to Rs 10 lakh fine. Kerala Police seeks the support of the community, in this project and if any member of the public comes across any such channels or groups that spread child sex-related content, we urge you to please inform Hi Tech Crime Enquiry Cell, Cyberdome or Cyber cells at the earliest, considering "Child security as the responsibility of every member of the society".