(QUOTE) The Operation Ore class action comes to court next month (finally). Big Jim is likely to feature prominently as it was he who led the entire fiasco from the start. That he should fall on his sword just about now is...well, let's just say it's 'interesting'. He does appear to have rather a lot of rather awkward questions to answer. ( UNQUOTE)
GAMBLE IS UNAPOLOGETIC BACK IN JUNE 14TH 2007.
The enormous task of keeping track of paedophiles online has fallen on Jim Gamble of the CEOP. He tells Jane Wakefield that partnerships with portals is key to success
As head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), Jim Gamble spearheads efforts to keep track of paedophiles as they turn to the web. It’s a problem the whole industry has to face up to, but he says that partnerships with internet firms have been key to what the CEOP has achieved since it was set up a year ago.
“While we were pausing to consider in isolation how we might combat this crime, the criminal was leaping ahead with new technology. We’ve now jumped ahead of them because we’re partnered with people in the industry, such as Microsoft and AOL,” he says.
Gamble is a copper through and through. Born in Northern Ireland but living the nomadic life of a child with a father in the forces, he first served as a military policeman in the British Army. Back in Northern Ireland, he joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary, where he rose quickly through the ranks, ticking off detective inspector, chief inspector and ACPO status before moving to the National Crime Squad, where he became deputy director general.
It was here that the police began seriously to tackle hi-tech criminals and online paedophiles. Gamble was closely involved in Operation Ore, the international police operation that linked 250,000 suspected paedophiles worldwide to a US website carrying images of children being abused. The operation led to thousands of arrests in the UK but, more recently, has courted huge controversy over whether some of the people arrested by the police were in fact innocent victims of credit card fraud.
Gamble admits there were “lessons to be learned” from Operation Ore but is unapologetic. It was, he says, the “wake-up call” that alerted the police to the need for more resources in dealing with paedophiles using the internet.
The CEOP has now been in operation for a year and, as well as leading the way in how to deal with paedophiles, has set new standards in policing. “When we built the centre we knew it couldn’t be built on a traditional policing infrastructure, so we built it in three faculties because learning is of incredible importance,” says Gamble. “We need to learn something new every day about how the offender operates and how children respond on the internet.”
So the CEOP is a diverse combination of computer experts, psychologists, police officers, charity workers and people from the technology industry. Microsoft, for instance, has provided the centre with a child-tracking system for free.
In its first year the CEOP has, says Gamble, had some notable successes. It now deals with 400 cases a month, whereas its predecessor, the National Crime Squad in conjunction with the Online Paedophilia Unit, could cope with only 40.
It recognised immediately the need to work with firms like MSN that operate instant messaging services. IM chatrooms have long been targeted by paedophiles as a way of meeting and ‘grooming’ children for online or even offline sex. MSN agreed to put a ‘report abuse’ link in its chatrooms and, according to Gamble, the number of reports of suspicious behaviour rose 130% in the first week after its introduction.
Now the CEOP faces a new challenge as paedophiles move their attention to social networks like MySpace and YouTube. Since it was set up last year, half of the reports of online grooming that the CEOP receives from victims or their parents relate to networking sites.
Such sites are beginning to realise the need to be proactive on the issue of paedophiles. Recently MySpace removed and blocked several thousand user profiles of convicted sex offenders as part of its efforts to protect its young members against adult predators. Attempts by law enforcers to get hold of the names of those blacklisted have been less successful, with MySpace arguing that the US Electronic Communication Privacy Act prevents it handing over any details.
Gamble is confident that social networks will be policed and the CEOP regularly uses undercover officers posing as children to infiltrate such sites. “Social networks, chatrooms, anywhere the predator will go to follow children, we’ll go to follow the predator,” he says.
He brushes off claims this could be seen as entrapment, saying the officers only target those who are already committed to the activity of grooming children for sex.
“We’re in a chatroom, we’ve heard an individual in the UK say they’re going to abuse a child, we can then take that information to capture the IP address and identify where that individual is and direct local police to them. That happens on a frequent basis,” explains Gamble.
He’s extremely proud of the fact that the CEOP has managed to create what he describes as “a virtual taskforce”, which operates 24/7 with help from partnerships with police authorities in Australia, Canada, the US and Italy. Such a force breaks down the barriers between the online and offline worlds, he says.
Undoubtedly industry co-operation has been very valuable in tightening the noose and he believes that the days when the borderless and chaotic nature of the web made policing difficult are over. “People have been seduced by the internet. They think the law doesn’t apply there. The message we’re trying to give out is that if you have a deviant sexual interest in children then get help because you’re going to get caught.”
Putting figures on how widespread the problem is has always proved difficult. One US group has suggested that as many as 50,000 paedophiles are online at a time, but Gamble isn’t so sure.
He recognises there’s a fine line to walk when trying to enlist support. “We’re so keen to raise awareness that we all play a part in blowing the problem out of proportion. Children generally are safe. Not everyone is a paedophile,” he says.
For Gamble, the key to tackling social networks isn’t just about policing but about empowering and educating the youngsters who visit them so they’re aware of the dangers and know how to deal with them.
Despite describing the job as the most “harrowing and appalling” he has ever done, the job of cyber-cop can bring incredible rewards. “There have been days and weeks when I would rather be anywhere else in the world,” he says. “But when you get a result where a little girl who we’ve been looking for for so many months has been found, there’s no job like it.”
Name Jim Gamble Title Head of CEOP Age 47 Education
Left school at 16 Career
British Military Police
Various roles within the Royal Ulster Constabulary
Deputy director of the National Crime Squad
Head of CEOP