Commissioner touts reach of AFP’s ‘tentacles’ as he rejects calls for end-to-end encryption

Australian Federal Police (AFP) Commissioner Reece Kershaw has urged Australians to better arm themselves with knowledge on end-to-end encryption before focusing on the promise of increased privacy.

Using his address to the National Press Club on Wednesday to discuss child exploitation syndicates the AFP and its partners have cracked this year, Kershaw said as a country, Australia needs to be more outraged about those who produce and distribute child exploitation material. He also said there’s a need for Australians to be better engaged when the inevitable debate arises with Facebook and other platforms when they move to end-to-end encryption.

“To put it simply, when these platforms move to end-to-end encryption, the job becomes harder for police to catch predators. We are very worried about when that day comes, while on the other hand, paedophiles are counting down the days because they cannot wait,” he said.

“And I say this to those who argue that moving towards end-to-end encryption is the privacy they need and deserve: I challenge you to explain that to a child who has been tortured, exploited and repeatedly for the gratification of others; explain to that victim that they may never get justice because technology has been designed to keep the identity of their monster a secret.”

Last year, the AFP’s Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) received almost 17,000 reports of child exploitation — around 45 cases a day. From January through June 30 this year, the number of cases received by the ACCCE already sits at 11,325.

“Our investigators frustratingly watch some victims grow-up online, being abused daily,” he said. “But the AFP will never give up. Pixel, by pixel, our investigators look for commonalities or anything that can identify those who need rescuing.”

Between July 2019 to May 2020 the AFP laid 1078 Commonwealth Child Exploitation charges against 144 people. Kershaw said this crime type is getting worse.

“In some countries it costs less than a packet of cigarettes to order pay-per-view, pay-to-direct child rape and exploitation,” he said. “And the number of Australians undertaking this abhorrent crime has increased during COVID-19. There are more people at home on their computers and more desperate people across the world.”

While Kershaw said old threats still remain, he said new ones are emerging as geopolitics, a global pandemic, and technology influences how law enforcement needs to adapt to fight crime.

“With more than 100 AFP personnel posted in 33 countries, the AFP has a unique international remit and operates one of the world’s largest, and most diverse international law enforcement networks,” he said.

“Just because a syndicate has moved, or has established offshore, where many now operate, it does not mean our tentacles cannot reach them.”

Kershaw also urged parents to upskill to learn and understand what their kids do on the internet, including how social media services and platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat work.

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