As part of the organization’s ongoing efforts to end cybercrime, Europol launched a crowdsourcing initiative called “Trace an Object.” Europol, the law enforcement agency that exists to provide support to EU member states, launched “Trace an Object” as an extension of ongoing investigations into child abuse. In essence, Europol will upload images that connect to unsolved child abuse cases—the images may contain objects or visual cues recognizable only by certain members of the public.
For example, the pictures might contain items identifiable by people from a particular region or even even as specific as a city or town. Shopping bags from local businesses or groceries. A unique style of wallpaper. Even “a shampoo bottle, a magazine cover or even wallpaper,” the Europol press release explained. “The most innocent clues can sometimes help crack a case. The objects are all taken from the background of an image with sexually explicit material involving minors.”
“Law enforcement all over the world is working closely together to identify as many offenders and victims as possible,” Europol explained. “This identification process is often very complex and the identification of small objects in the background of these images can lead to a breakthrough in the investigation.” The “Trace an Object” initiative is not new as a concept. The agency explained that in the recent past, two victims were identified after the identification two of elements from the background of similar images. Europol also hosts a Victim Identification Task Force.
Rob Wainwright, Executive Director of Europol, wrote:
“The Victim Identification Task Force held at Europol has repeatedly shown the significant possibilities of rescuing victims of child abuse through experts working together analysing abuse images. In many of these cases the key breakthrough has been established through a small piece of information such as identification of objects in the background of the image that provide a vital clue to investigators.”
The Victim Identification Taskforce, according to Europol, first came together in 2014. “Experts from Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the UK, the USA, Europol, and Interpol” gathered for 12 days to identify victims via similar methods. (Instead of the general public through crowdsourcing, the Victim Identification Task Force gathered Victim Identification experts from law enforcement agencies in the nine countries involved.) As a result Interpol’s International Child Sexual Exploitation image database expanded by 240 new collections.
Europol played a key role in numerous child abuse investigations throughout the European Union. (And elsewhere by transmitting information to law enforcement agencies responsible for investigations into particular crimes.) A recent example of Europol’s work in fighting child abuse was their leading position in Operation Daylight. Daylight was an investigation into a darknet child pornography forum that Swiss authorities discovered. The investigation started in 2015. At Europol’s announcement in August 2016, their work led to 75 arrests through over 25 countries with 207 open cases.
Europol hopes that “Trace an Object” will reach one the billions of internet users (nearly four billion) who can provide vital information and possibly close a child abuse investigation. The 20 pictures are available here: Stop Child Abuse – Trace An Object.