“You can share things very easily, and in a sense our search for these predators has the capacity to go viral,” he said, as users of the app post the alerts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts. “Anything that gets information out, and gets information out to a broader group of people, is good for law enforcement.”
In announcing the initiative, ICE acting Director John Sandweg talked of the importance of embracing new crime-fighting tools in the Internet age.
“When children are being sexually abused and exploited, it’s a race against the clock to rescue the child and bring the predator to justice,” he said.
“These investigations are one of our highest priorities, and in today’s world, we need to be technologically savvy and innovative in our approach,” Sandweg said.
On a five-week operation in May and June, part of ICE’s efforts to catch abusers and child pornography distributors and to rescue victims of online sexual exploitation, the agency and task forces across the country arrested 255 alleged predators and identified 61 child victims.
Investigators uncovered a disturbing trend: Child predators are increasingly using the Internet to entice children to share sexually explicit material online, ICE said. In some cases, they were also sexually extorting, or “sextorting,” the minors into producing increasingly graphic images and videos by threatening to expose previously obtained material, ICE said.
At the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in Alexandria, Va., officials have seen a steady increase in the number of tips coming into its cyber tip line over the past few years.
“The numbers are continuing to go up and a lot of that is because the companies … the Facebooks, Microsofts, the Googles … they’re very proactive in monitoring their networks and making sure they’re not hosting that type of material,” said John Shehan, executive director of the center’s exploited children division.