ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) was appointed chair this week in Abu Dhabi of the Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT), an international alliance of 18 law enforcement agencies and private sector partners dedicated to combating online child sexual abuse. ICE is a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has led the alliance for the past three years. As chairmanship of the VGT rotates among members every three years, HSI will oversee the international taskforce until 2015.
HSI will be the third chair of the VGT since its inception in 2003. Prior to AFP, the VGT was chaired by the United Kingdom's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), that established this taskforce with six founding law enforcement agencies.
During its tenure as chair, AFP increased VGT membership with the addition of the Ministry of Interior for the United Arab Emirates (MOI UAE), the New Zealand Police and Europol, as well as nine new private sector partners, to create an even stronger presence and greater global reach with enhanced capacity for research, training, education and intelligence sharing. AFP also hosted the fourth VGT Conference in Sydney in December 2010, reaching an audience of over 200 people from 32 countries and saw several VGT operational successes including Operation Basket.
AFP has also been instrumental in reinvigorating the VGT website and introducing the Report Abuse function, which allows any person to report suspected online child abuse by directly linking them to the relevant VGT member agency's reporting Web page or email address.
AFP Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan said that the development of international relationships, networks and communications has been crucial to the VGT's efforts to combat online child sexual exploitation.
"The global and accessible nature of online child sexual exploitation means that no nation can effectively combat it alone. International engagement and cooperation is vital.
"I have no doubt that HSI will do a great job taking the VGT chair and continue to build on the VGT's strengths in fighting this horrendous crime type, " Assistant Commissioner Gaughan said.
Deputy Assistant Director Ian Quinn, head of HSI's Cyber Crimes Center, will assume the duties of chair from AFP National Manager of High Tech Crime Operations Neil Gaughan.
"Our experience has shown that individuals seeking to sexually exploit children often do so in concert or communication with like-minded individuals wherever in the world they may be. This makes it all the more crucial for law enforcement agencies across the world to combine resources to effectively combat this horrific crime," said Quinn. "The VGT is the perfect platform to accomplish this goal because of the global reach of the member agencies and their dedication to combating the sexual exploitation of children."
As chair, HSI will seek, through the VGT, to continue to expand joint international operations by encouraging law enforcement partners throughout the world to share information about criminal activity related to the sexual exploitation of children in an effort to leverage all law enforcement resources to increase the collective impact and provide safety and security for children everywhere.
The aim of the VGT is to protect children and prevent online child abuse. The VGT strives to make the internet a safer place and to identify, locate and help children at risk and hold perpetrators accountable.
The nine VGT law enforcement member agencies are comprised of AFP; HSI; CEOP; MOI UAE; the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre, a division of the Canadian Police Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, Royal Canadian Mounted Police; the Italian Postal and Communication Police Service; New Zealand Police; INTERPOL; and Europol.
VGT private sector partners are End Child Prostitution Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes network (ECPAT International), International Association of Internet Hotlines (INHOPE), the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC), PayPal, Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit, World Vision Australia, Research In Motion, and The Code.
The VGT chair handover was announced during the fifth biennial VGT Conference International Collaboration: An enabler for Prevention.
For more information on the VGT, visit www.virtualglobaltaskforce.com.