US and European police have shut down the largest global pedophile ring after hacking its website and arresting nearly 900 of its members following a two-year investigation.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Europol made the announcement Friday after a court sentenced Florida-based Steven Chase, founder of the so-called Playpen pedophilia network, to 30 years in prison.
The police are said to have arrested 870 people during the investigation into the group's members around the globe that began after Chase's arrest back in 2014.
Officials said 368 of those arrested were from Europe. The investigation also identified at least 259 sexually abused children.
As part of its investigation, called "Operation Pacifier," the FBI used a malware to seize the Playpen website and server, which allowed authorities to track and identify Playpen users.
The result of that investigation was the harvesting of IP addresses and other identifiable information of more than 1,300 people who either logged in or registered on the site during that period, FBI and Europol said.
Chase was sentenced this week in a federal courtroom in North Carolina on multiple child-pornography and child-exploitation charges.
Two of the founder’s aides, Michael Fluckiger and David Browning, both US citizens – who served as administrators of the site – were each jailed for 20 years.
“Those individuals involved in the sexual abuse of children are becoming increasingly forensically aware and are actively using the most advanced forms of anonymisation and encryption to avoid detection,” said Steven Wilson, head of Europol's Cybercrime Center.
“The internet has no boundaries and does not recognize borders. We need to balance the rights of victims versus the right to privacy. If we operate 19th century legal principles then we are unable to effectively tackle crime at the highest level,” he added.
EU Commissioner for the Security Union, Sir Julian King, has hailed joint international efforts to take down the child pornography site.
“A hugely significant blow has been struck against one of the most heinous of crimes, arguably the worst of all, thanks to the excellent transnational cooperation of Europol with the FBI and the US Department of Justice, as well as other law enforcement agencies around the world,” King said.