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Crime

Four arrested in takedown of dark web child abuse platform with some half a million users

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Four have been arrested in a multi-agency operation sparked by a German investigation into one of Europe’s most prolific child sexual abuse platforms on the dark web. These arrests were made in Germany (3) and Paraguay (1) earlier this month. The arrested individuals – all German nationals, had various roles in relation to the site seized. The dark web platform, known as Boystown, has been taken down by an international taskforce set up by the German Federal Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt) which included Europol and law enforcement agencies from the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, Canada and the United States. This site focused on the sexual abuse of children and had 400 ,00 registered users when it was taken down. Several other chat sites on the dark web used by child sexual offenders were also seized on the same occasion. The case illustrates what Europol is seeing in child sexual abuse offending: online child offender communities on the dark web exhibit considerable resilience in response to law enforcement actions targeting them.

Their reactions include resurrecting old communities, establishing new communities, and making strong efforts to organise and administer them. The image and video data seized during this investigation will be used for Victim Identification Taskforces organised on a regular basis at Europol. More arrests and rescues are to be expected globally as police worldwide examine the intelligence packages compiled by Europol.

The following authorities took part in this investigation: Germany: Federal Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt) The Netherlands: National Police (Politie) Sweden: National Police (Polisen) Australia: Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE), Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Queensland Police Service (QPS) United States: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Canada: Royal Canadian Mounted Police

EU law

Better Regulation: Joining forces to make better EU laws and to prepare for the future

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The Commission has adopted a Communication on Better Regulation, proposing several improvements to the EU law-making process. To foster Europe's recovery, it is more important than ever to legislate as efficiently as possible, while making EU laws better adapted to tomorrow's needs.

Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight Vice President Maroš Šefčovič (pictured) said: “The Commission already has one of the best Better Regulation systems in the world but we still need to do more. Therefore, we are stepping up efforts to simplify EU legislation and reduce its burden, while making better use of strategic foresight and supporting sustainability and digitalisation. To succeed, however, all stakeholders must work together on high-quality EU policymaking that will translate into a stronger, more resilient Europe.''

Cooperation among the EU institutions, with member states and stakeholders, including social partners, businesses and civil society, is key. To help face current and future challenges, the Commission has proposed the following actions:

  • Removing obstacles and red tape that slow down investments and building of 21st century infrastructure, working with member states, regions and key stakeholders.
  • Simplifying public consultations by introducing a single ‘Call for Evidence', on the improved Have Your Say portal.
  • Introducing a ‘one in, one out' approach, to minimise burdens for citizens and businesses by paying special attention to the implications and costs of applying legislation, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. This principle ensures that any newly introduced burdens are offset by removing equivalent burdens in the same policy area.
  • Mainstreaming the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, to ensure that all legislative proposals contribute to the 2030 sustainable development agenda.
  • Improving the way in which Better Regulation addresses and supports sustainability and digital transformation.
  • Integrating strategic foresight into policymaking to ensure it is fit for the future, by for instance, taking into account emerging megatrends in the green, digital, geopolitical and socio-economic contexts.

Next steps

Better Regulation is a shared objective and responsibility of all EU institutions. We will reach out to the European Parliament and the Council regarding their efforts to assess and monitor the impact of EU legislation and EU spending programmes. In addition, we will cooperate more closely with local, regional and national authorities, and social partners on EU policymaking.

Some of the new elements of this Communication have already started in practice, such as the work of the Fit for Future Platform, which provides advice on ways to make EU legislation easier to comply with, efficient and fit for the future. Others will be implemented in the coming months. This year will see, among other things:

  • The 2020 Annual Burden Survey, outlining the results of the Commission's burden reduction efforts.
  • The revised Better Regulation guidelines and toolbox to take into account the new elements of the Communication, providing concrete guidance to European Commission services when preparing new initiatives and proposals as well as when managing and evaluating existing

Background

The Commission carried out a stocktaking of its better regulation agenda in 2019, confirming that the system is broadly functioning well, while needing improvements to reflect experience.

The EU has a long history on evidence-based policymaking, including reducing regulatory burdens, starting in 2002. It includes regular evaluations of existing laws, a very advanced system of impact assessment, a top of the class stakeholders' consultation approach and a comprehensive burden reduction programme (REFIT).

For more information

The 2021 Better Regulation Communication

Q&A on the 2021 Better Regulation Communication

The 2019 Stocktaking exercise

The Better Regulation agenda

The law-making process in the EU

The Have Your Say portal

Fit for Future Platform

REFIT – making EU law simpler, less costly and future proof

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Crime

1,600 offences detected in a global operation against marine pollution

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Between 1 and 30 March 2021, 300 agencies across 67 countries joined forces against marine pollution during the third global operation 30 Days at Sea. Europol and Frontex co-ordinated the European leg of the operation, as part of the EMPACT action plan on environmental crime, while INTERPOL co-ordinated the global activities. The actions led to the identification of numerous crimes ranging from illegal discharge to waste trafficking and the investigation of thousands of suspects worldwide.   

Frontline action followed five months of intelligence collection and analysis, enabling participating countries to identify hotspots and targets.

The simultaneous actions in March led to:

  • 34,000 inspections at sea and inland waterways, coastal areas and ports; 
  • 1,600 marine pollution offences detected in total;
  • 500 illegal acts of pollution committed at sea, including oil discharges, illegal shipbreaking and sulphur emissions from vessels;
  • 1,000 pollution offences in coastal areas and in rivers, including illegal discharges of contaminants;
  • 130 cases of waste trafficking through ports.

By using INTERPOL’s wide range of databases and analytical capabilities, countries were able to connect pollution crime with other serious crimes such as fraud, corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, piracy, and illegal fishing. 

Criminals attempt to abuse the pandemic also at sea

With many enforcement resources being reassigned to tackle the pandemic, criminals have been quick to exploit growing vulnerabilities in different crime areas including environmental crime. Inspections uncovered typical forms of marine pollution crime, from vessel discharges to waste trafficking by sea, but also criminal trends that have been growing amid the pandemic. Growing trends included COVID-19 disposable items such as masks and gloves, with 13 cases involving medical waste opened as a result of the operation. 

A major criminal network trafficking plastic waste between Europe and Asia was exposed, triggering cooperation between authorities from both regions. So far, 22 suspects have been arrested and thousands of tonnes of waste have been prevented from being illegally shipped to Asia. It is highly likely that the waste would have likely been dumped there, contaminating soils and generating considerable marine litter.

Several countries from Europe, Asia and Africa reported illegal shipments of contaminated or mixed metal waste falsely declared as metal scraps. In one case, the Italian Coast Guard seized and prevented 11 000 tonnes of metal scraps mixed with plastic, rubber, mineral oil and other contaminants from being loaded onto bulk carriers headed for Turkey. Namibia, the Philippines and Croatia also reported cases of illegal waste shipments from Europe.

Global coordination to counter the pollution of our seas

Europol and FRONTEX (European Border and Coast Guard Agency) coordinated the European leg of 30 Days at Sea 3.0, while INTERPOL’s Environmental Security Programme coordinating the operation globally. 

Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle said: “Marine pollution is a serious threat, which endangers not only the environment but our health and in the long run our global economy. Criminals do not care about the environment; they do not think of tomorrow, but only of increasing their profits on the back of our society. Consolidated law enforcement efforts such as the operation 30 Days at Sea are critical to tackle these borderless crimes and protect our environmental heritage for generations to come.”

INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock said: “The threat of pollution crime is constantly evolving, endangering the air we breathe, our water and soil. Although this is the third edition of 30 Days at Sea, it is never the same exercise. 
 

It is thanks to a global yet agile network that we have seen the number of inspections more than double since the first edition: a clear sign that the international community will not stand for criminal attacks on our environment.”

“Environmental crime is one of many criminal activities Frontex targets as part of our mission as the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. This is our contribution to the protection of the environment. I’m proud that, as part of 30 Days at Sea, Frontex aerial and maritime assets monitored nearly 1 000 vessels,” said Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri.

All three editions of Operation 30 Days at Sea 3.0 have been carried out with funding from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad).

*Participating countries:

17 EU Member States: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden

50 non-EU countries: Angola, Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Chilie, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Dem Rep Congo, Ecuador Ethiopia, Fiji, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea Bissau, Honduras, India, Israel, Kenya, Kuwait, Liberia, Malaysia, Maldives, Namibia, Nigeria, Norway, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Zimbabwe Headquartered in The Hague, the Netherlands, we support the 27 EU member states in their fight against terrorism, cybercrime and other serious and organised forms of crime. We also work with many non-EU partner states and international organisations. From its various threat assessments to its intelligence-gathering and operational activities, Europol has the tools and resources it needs to do its part in making Europe safer.

EMPACT

In 2010 the European Union set up a four-year Policy Cycle to ensure greater continuity in the fight against serious international and organized crime. In 2017 the Council of the EU decided to continue the EU Policy Cycle for the 2018 - 2021 period. It aims to tackle the most significant threats posed by organised and serious international crime to the EU. This is achieved by improving and strengthening cooperation between the relevant services of EU member states, institutions and agencies, as well as non-EU countries and organisations, including the private sector where relevant. Environmental crime is one of the priorities for the Policy Cycle.

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Crime

Fight against organized crime: New five-year strategy for boosting co-operation across the EU and for better use of digital tools for investigations

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The Commission has presented a new EU Strategy to tackle Organized Crime, focusing on boosting law enforcement and judicial cooperation, tackling organised crime structures and high priority crimes, removing criminal profits and ensuring a modern response to technological developments. Organized crime groups continue to develop and evolve, as shown by their rapid adaptation to the coronavirus pandemic, for example through the increase in counterfeit medical products and online crime. Organised crime groups active in Europe are involved in a variety of criminal activities, with drugs trafficking, organised property crime, fraud, migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings being prevalent. In 2019, criminal revenues in the main criminal markets amounted to 1% of the EU's GDP, i.e. €139 billion, Related media

The Strategy sets out the tools and measures to be taken over the next five years to disrupt the business models and structures of criminal organisations across borders, both online and offline. 

Promoting our European Way of Life Vice President Margaritis Schinas said: “Criminal syndicates increasingly use new technologies and seize any opportunity to expand their illegal activities, online or offline. The recent emblematic cases like EncroChat have exposed how sophisticated these organised crime networks are. This shows how important our efforts to tackle organised crime across borders are. Today's Strategy will help hit these criminals where it hurts the most, by undermining their business model which thrives on a lack of coordination between states.” 

Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said: “We clearly need to step up to fight organized crime groups. They are among the biggest threats to our security. They are highly professional and transnational: 70% of criminal groups are active in more than three member states. They quickly adapted to the pandemic, moving online and selling fake or non-existent cures. We have already detected attempted scam sales of over 1 billion vaccine doses. Our strategy is a 5-year programme to strengthen European law enforcement in the physical and the digital world. With the measures we're proposing today, we'll be moving from occasional police cooperation to permanent police partnerships, and we'll follow the money to catch criminals in financial investigations.”    

The Strategy aims to: 

  • Boost law enforcement and judicial cooperation: With 65% of the criminal groups active in the EU composed of multiple nationalities, effective exchange of information among law enforcement and judicial authorities across the EU is key to effectively tackle organised crime. The Commission will expand, modernise and reinforce funding for the European multidisciplinary platform against criminal threats (EMPACT), the structure that since 2010 brings together all relevant European and national authorities to identify priority crime threats and address them collectively. The Commission will propose to upgrade the ‘Prüm' framework for exchanging information on DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration. To make sure that law enforcement across the EU can work together better under a modern rulebook, the Commission will propose an EU Police Cooperation Code which will streamline the current patchwork of various EU tools and multi-lateral cooperation agreements. Achieving the 2023 objective to make information systems for security, border and migration management interoperable will help law enforcement better detect and combat identity fraud often used by criminals. Finally, to better tackle criminal networks operating internationally, the Commission is also proposing to start negotiating a cooperation agreement with Interpol.  
  • Support more effective investigations to disrupt organized crime structures and focusing on high and specific priority crimes: There is a need to step up cooperation at EU level to dismantle organised crime structures. To ensure an effective response to specific forms of crime, the Commission will propose to revise the EU rules against environmental crime and will establish an EU toolbox against counterfeiting, notably of medical products. It will present measures to address the illicit trade in cultural goods. The Commission is also presenting today a Strategy dedicated to combatting trafficking in human beings. 
  • Make sure crime does not pay: Over 60% of criminal networks active in the EU engage in corruption and more than 80% use legitimate businesses as a front for their activities, while only 1% of criminal assets is confiscated. Tackling criminal finances is key to uncover, punish and deter crime. The Commission will propose to revise the EU rules on confiscating criminal profits, develop the EU anti-money laundering rules, promote the early launch of financial investigations and assess the existing EU anti-corruption rules. This will also help prevent infiltration into the legal economy.  
  • Make law enforcement and the judiciary fit for the digital age: Criminals communicate and commit crimes online and leave digital traces online. With 80% of crimes having a digital component, law enforcement and the judiciary need swift access to digital leads and evidence. They also need to use modern technology and be equipped with tools and skills to keep up with modern crime modi operandi. The Commission will analyse and outline possible approaches to data retention as well as propose a way forward to address a lawful and targeted access to encrypted information in the context of criminal investigations and prosecutions that would also protect security and the confidentiality of communications. The Commission will also work with relevant EU Agencies to provide national authorities with the tools, knowledge and operational expertise needed to conduct digital investigations.  

Background  

Today's Strategy is part of the EU's work towards fostering security for all those living in Europe, as outlined in the EU Security Union Strategy.  

The Strategy to tackle Organised Crime builds on Europol's latest four-yearly assessment of serious and organised crime threats released on 12 April 2021.  

More information  

Communication on an EU Strategy to tackle Organized Crime for 2021-2025 

Commission Staff Working Document on EMPACT, the flagship EU instrument for cooperation to fight organized and serious international crime 

Recommendation for a Council Decision authorizing the opening of negotiations for a co-operation agreement between the EU and Interpol 

MEMO: EU Strategy to tackle Organized Crime & EU Strategy on combatting Trafficking in Human Beings  

Factsheet: Tackling Organized Crime

Press release: Fighting trafficking in human beings: new strategy to prevent trafficking break criminal business models, protect and empower victims 

Europol reports on the evolution of organised crime during the COVID-19 pandemic 

Europol's 2021 Serious and Organized Crime Threat Assessment 

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