The successful set up of the recently announced intelligence hub to counter child exploitation crime – earmarked for $68.6 million in funding in the upcoming 2018-19 Federal budget – relies on linking up the relevant intelligence capabilities across agencies in the Home Affairs portfolio, as well as other federal, state and non-governmental entities.
To sit within the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), the creation of the centralised Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) will likely add to the department’s already substantial integration workload that accompanied the Machinery of Government (MoG) changes.
The creation of the ACCCE reflects a broad objective of the Home Affairs MoG changes to create an intelligence community computing environment that is free from “technical barriers to collaboration”.
In 2018 Senates Estimates hearings, Secretary Michael Pezzullo outlined some key intended benefits of the MoG changes, including “to take advantage of the creation of this larger and more integrated portfolio to build scaled-up capabilities and exploit previously unattainable synergies in areas such as intelligence, data exploitation, advanced identity and biometrics capabilities, highly advanced digital systems where digital is designed into all processes and practices by default … and ever more powerful computing systems and analytical tools”.
According to a joint media release from Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and the Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security Angus Taylor announcing the new unit countering child exploitation crime, the $68.6 million in budget funding allocated to create the ACCCE will build investigation and prevention capabilities “not currently held by any single federal or state agency”.
“The violent and repulsive abuse of children is becoming more prevalent and the organised nature of offending is also becoming more complex, requiring a consolidated and strategic approach to combat it,” states the media release.
“The scale and complexity of the challenge is compounded by technology and the continuing evolution of that technology for what is a borderless crime.”
The ACCCE set up will build on existing capabilities and be implemented in phases. The 2018-19 Budget allocation allows the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to expand existing Child Protection Operations by around 30 per cent in the next financial year, and then a further 30 per cent the following year.
The ACCCE will be based in Brisbane due to the city’s status as a “cyber security hub”, according to the media release.
Current ICT environment for countering child exploitation
Responsibility for the investigation and prevention of child exploitation crime currently resides with multiple law enforcement entities in various jurisdictions. There are currently joint intelligence sharing applications for these entities to plug into.
Currently, law enforcement agencies use applications delivered by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC). ACIC’s Child Exploitation Tracking System (CETS) and National Child Offender System (NCOS) are currently leveraged to counter this “borderless crime”. These ACIC systems are likely to inform the development of the scaled-up and centralised ACCCE ICT environment.
CETS automates the process of connecting seized images with previously identified materials, including metadata and IP addresses, as well as categorising the materials, and improving police capacity to identify at-risk children. It can process tens of thousands of images in an hour.
The system was created in 2010 and rolled out nationally in 2012 for $4.6 million. It has recently been marked for upgrades to increase its technical capabilities.
NCOS is a web-based application for sharing intelligence regarding offenders. Legislation requires police to register, case manage and share information about registered offenders. Changes made to legislation in 2017 necessitated enhancements to the application. NCOS now allows Child Protection Units in each jurisdiction to request the cancellation, surrender or issuing of Australian passports for registered offenders who are Australian citizens.
ACIC also provides Biometric Identification Services, which supports the management of victim and offender identities.