Child Abuse: Investigators will not allow pictures to be deleted


Status: 02.12.2021 6:01 a.m.

Numerous photos and videos showing serious sexual abuse of children often stay online for years, although investigative authorities could delete them. Research by NDR and “mirror”.

Von Lutz Ackermann, Robert Bongen, Benjamin Güldenring and Daniel Moßbrucker, NDR

Many images of abuse on the pediatric criminal platform “Boystown”, which the German authorities shut down in April 2021, are still available online. This was the result of joint research by panorama, STRG_F and “mirror”. The investigators had arrested four masterminds from “Boystown”, but did not have the photos and videos from the platform removed by the relevant storage services.

This is due to the special online architecture of pedagogical networks like “Boystown”. Although they use the anonymous Darknet to operate their platforms, the amount of data from their recordings is too large to be stored there. For this reason, the pediatric criminals choose storage services in the ordinary Internet instead, in order to upload their material there in encrypted form. In the darknet forum, they then only share a corresponding download link, often with password protection. According to the research, the storage service operators usually have no idea of ​​this. If these links to illegal content were reported to them, they would very likely remove them from the network.

In the currently largest Darknet forum, in which photos and videos of serious child abuse are shared, there are more than 20 terabytes of image material for download. That corresponds to about a year of video in high definition quality. Research shows that it would be very easy to have these recordings deleted. However, since law enforcement agencies don’t care, pedo criminals have been able to redistribute such photos and videos for years.

Apprehend perpetrators, leave content?

In the “Boystown” case, the links are available to the law enforcement authorities – but have apparently not yet been reported to the storage services. According to research by Panorama, CTRL_F and “Spiegel” the links still worked months after the platform was actually switched off and were also shared by a user in another forum. The photos and videos document the worst crimes against children, such as the penetration of infants or group rape of girls and boys. The material from so-called “studios”, in which children are sexually abused “professionally”, has also remained online.

When asked, the head of the “Violent and Sexual Offenses” group at the BKA, Hans-Joachim Leon, explained that it was an “essential task also for the law enforcement authorities” to have files of abuse removed from the network. However, especially during their investigations in the Darknet, they did not have them deleted. “Our investigations are perpetrator-oriented. We try to get the users. We do not collect any links,” said Leon. He referred to the human resources that reporting the content would take – and which would then be missing elsewhere.

“Annoy users to death”

A team of NDR– Journalists were able to show, however, that huge amounts could be removed from the Darknet forums in a short period of time with a manageable amount of effort. They tested the reaction of the storage services, which are used particularly intensively by the pedo criminals for the storage of their material. In what is currently the largest forum, the journalists collected around 80,000 links. Result: All services – whether domestic or foreign – removed the content within hours or a maximum of two days.

The journalists also managed to get in touch with the forum administrator. He confirmed that law enforcement authorities had not yet systematically reported any content linked to his platform – although this could “annoy the user to death”: If you delete long enough, it could happen that people leave and the administrators “deny.” Shut down shop “.

Those affected become victims again and again

It was only in mid-November that Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) pointed out at the autumn conference of the BKA that the number of depictions of sexual abuse had risen sharply, and emphasized that the image or video material “should under no circumstances be permanently available”. Otherwise, those affected would be victims again and again, “for a lifetime”. The deletion is indispensable.

Julia von Weiler from the child protection organization “Innocence in Danger” calls on the authorities to have recordings of abuse removed more systematically: “If these groups realize that someone can break into their forum and pass on the links, that material will be deleted, there is massive uncertainty. ” That is an important signal that there is no legal vacuum there.

Change of strategy in the fight against darknet forums?

For North Rhine-Westphalia Interior Minister Herbert Reul, who quadrupled the number of investigators after various cases of abuse in the state, the research findings were new: “This is a very interesting and clever strategy, no question about it,” said the CDU politician in an interview. He wanted to examine whether it would be possible to have stronger erasures in the future: “You can’t just solve crimes in one fell swoop, but sometimes you just have to stick with it, annoy, disturb, spread unrest, make it unattractive, make it more difficult.”

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