Direct law enforcement of online child protection can be expected to ramp up this year with the creation of a new police team called Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand (OCEANZ).
Detective senior sergeant Neil Holden told a Netsafe meeting in Auckland yesterday the team would continue to pursue an integrated approach alongside the more familiar face of online crime enforcement, the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), and other bodies such as Customs, Netsafe and community groups.
Holden says the new group is looking at Queensland's Argos taskforce as a model for the local team.
Holden says groups such as OCEANZ have made mistakes as they tackle the new face of child exploitation online but he hopes to learn from those and not repeat them, with an emphasis on locating and helping children at risk.
From there the police would resume their more familiar role of holding offenders to account.
Also speaking at the meeting was DIA censorship inspector Peter Pilley. Pilley pointed out the definition of offensive material is probably broader than many think. He says three cases of people possessing sexualised Manga cartoons (Hentai) are about to come to court locally.
He says "proactive R&D" is a key part of his group's work. The group operates an active law enforcement portal with shares tools, manuals and procedures.
Also, the department's peer to peer tracking software, dubbed "Squirrel Hunter", is in use in 19 countries and has been translated into five languages. It has detected hundreds of offences, he says.
A distributed case management system also delivers active intelligence through analysing relationships between online offenders.
"We want to identify rings before or while they are forming," he says.
Holden says four OCEANZ staff will prepare investigation packs to be sent to "real world coppers" to do the final work of conducting searches and face to face investigations.
He says OCEANZ will work alongside the National Cybercrime Centre (NC3), proposed in the previous government's Digital Strategy, but with a separate focus on child exploitation. NC3 will look at other crime areas such as identity theft and phishing.
The new unit will have the capability for online patrolling, he adds.
Holden says the development of the internet has created the conditions for a "perfect storm" of child abuse with the proliferation of chat rooms and social networking sites.
Added to that are changes in social attitudes, where kids binge drink and send pictures of themselves to each other from mobile phones and online. He says police have to get up to speed on both the technology and understanding adolescent development so they are not coming down hard on what would be considered normal sexual curiosity.
He says some cases, such as one code-named operation Dakota, test the boundaries of normal definitions of abuse. In "Dakota", a 13-year-old female in the UK was allegedly exploited by an 18-year-old Kiwi online, however, they never met. Hundreds of pictures, however, were exchanged, allegedly under threat of the girl's father being informed.
DIA's Pilley says his group is hoping to get Microsoft's Child Exploitation Tracking system (CETS) online by the time OCEANZ gets up and running. This provides further collaboration and advanced image matching technology.
Pilley also gave an overview of DIA's voluntary internet filtering trial and assured that there was no intention to make filtering compulsory, a move that created a firestorm in Australia.
He says the New Zealand system is robust and only images of child abuse are censored. This is because each site is viewed by inspectors and screenshots are captured at the time. It takes a decision by three inspectors to ban a site and this can be overruled by the chief censor.
In addition, anyone accessing a banned site is referred to a landing page where they can appeal the ban. All information about who is appealing is anonymised.
"There are no grey areas," he says. "This is only genuine child abuse material."
Pilley says at the peak of the trial, 600,000 people were having their access filtered