Earlier this year, law enforcement agencies from five European Union nations and the US worked together to dismantle an international paedophilia network, and arrested perpetrators and distributors of child abuse images and videos.
This is not the only such case: two other joint police crackdowns co-ordinated by Europol over the past two years have resulted in more than 300 suspects being arrested. Suspects were identified in 30 countries, ranging from Australia to the US. Teachers and a boy scout leader were among those arrested.
As these cases show, those who prey on children operate globally, without regard to borders - this is the reality that we must face and we must resolve. These criminals see the Internet as one of their most valuable tools. The same Internet that has helped revolutionise the way in which we conduct our everyday lives has also allowed perpetrators to widely disseminate images and videos of sexually abused children, while concealing the identities of the abusers. And each time an image or a video is spread further, that act of abuse is repeated again.
So how do we halt these horrendous crimes? In order for us to truly make a difference, every country must increase its own efforts, and we must improve our international co-operation to target this pervasive problem.
That is why, on Monday, we are joining with representatives from 48 countries in Brussels to lay the foundation for a Global Alliance against Child Sexual Abuse Online, a joint initiative by the EU and the US.
Australia will have an important role in this initiative. Civil society representatives, experts and companies, will also participate in the launch. Along with the 27 EU member states and the US, the participating countries include European neighbours such as Turkey and Moldova, and also, among others, Canada, Nigeria, South Korea and Japan.
With these countries on board, and others joining hereafter, we will be able to tackle the legal and practical challenges to ending this scourge. We will work to eliminate legal loopholes that are exploited by the distributors of child abuse material. We will strengthen our efforts to make sure that the Interpol international database of child abuse material grows by 10 per cent annually. We will make it easier to initiate joint cross-border police investigations. We will hold accountable those who prey upon our children.
The countries of the alliance will commit themselves to strong action on the home front, by establishing dedicated law enforcement units dealing with these crimes. We will deepen our co-operation with civil society, such as with organisations that operate hotlines where the public can report findings of online child pornography. In addition, co-operation with Internet service providers will be intensified, to better enable the timely sharing of information related to criminal investigations. Finally, we will seek to ensure that legislation is in place prohibiting child abuse offenders from working with children.
Raising awareness about these issues is absolutely imperative, since our ambition must be for all of us to feel safe when we are online. With better knowledge, young people can truly maximise their use of the net as a meeting place, and take full advantage of the vast resources it offers. Both children and parents should feel comfortable in embracing the possibilities provided by, for example, online social networks, while being made aware of how to avoid the dangers. All 49 countries in the alliance will now launch awareness campaigns.
Europe, the US and Australia will continue to fiercely defend the open and free nature of the Internet, while at the same time stopping those who try to use it for these despicable purposes. This reprehensible conduct is not about freedom of expression - it is about criminals who physically abuse children, take pictures or videos, and distribute these over the Internet. Recipients of child pornography do not merely possess the pictures - they support child abuse by engaging in its dissemination.
The alliance that we are launching aims to strengthen our resources to identify more victims of child sexual abuse, and ensure that they receive our help and support. We must bring more perpetrators to justice, fight the dissemination of child abuse material online, and increase awareness of how these crimes are carried out.
Greater national efforts and increased international co-operation are the only ways forward. We already know what is at stake: After our cross-border police operations against paedophile networks in 2011 and 2012, authorities identified and safeguarded over two hundred children who had become victims. With the global alliance in place, we pledge to help many more.
Cecilia Malmström is European Commissioner for Home Affairs.
Eric Holder is the US Attorney-General.