Australian expert: Police operation hard to scrutinise
The police in Australia have been criticised for supervising their own activities, says Ian Warren, a senior lecturer in criminology .
Australia’s Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) monitors police activity to ensure that law enforcement officials do their jobs properly. One of its responsibilities was to see that Task Force Argos stayedwithin the law while operating the Childs Play online sexual abuse forum.
Mark Ryan, the Queensland state minister for police, fire and emergency services, who oversees the Queensland Police Service (QPS), confirms this in a statement to VG:
- Last year, this legislation was further strengthened and increased the QPS’s capability to infiltrate and prosecute the networks that offenders create to facilitate the sexual abuse of children. The use of this legislation is bound by internal QPS policy and protocols, and operations are oversighted by the CCC. I encourage anyone with concerns to contact the CCC.
VG has repeatedly contacted the CCC to discuss whether Task Force Argos operated in compliance the law, but the CCC referred all questions to the Queensland Police Service, of which Task Force Argos is a part.
Ian Warren, senior lecturer at Deakin University in the state of Victoria, says the police have been criticised for engaging in self-supervision.
There is concern that the crime commission structure lacks independence, says the lecturer, adding:
- It’s a messy area and because controlled operations are confidential we don’t have any clear information on what has been happening with Task Force Argos and their activities with foreign-located websites .
Task Force Argos: We “sort” new laws that help us in our work.
Just two months before police took control of the Childs Play sexual abuse forum, Australian law was amended.
Highlights of the amendment of 4 August 2016:
** The police can prosecute people who refuse to provide log-in information.
** The police can prosecute people who share information on how to avoid criminal prosecution related to abuse material.
** The police can prosecute people who advertise abuse forums.
** The maximum penalty for producing child abuse material rose from 14 years to 20 years in prison.
The head of the Task Force Argos police unit, which ran the operation, says the police are able to influence the country’s laws.
- Progressively over the years we consistently sort new laws to help , Task Force chief Jon Rouse says.
- We have been very much on the front foot in talking to prosecutors, the attorney general’s office and the government about the challenges that we are facing to successfully prosecute these people. And we been fortunate that, not just within our organisation in the Queensland Police Service, but across government there has been support and an ear to help us do our job.
He says Task Force Argos played a part in legislative amendments that turned “child pornography” into “abuse material” in 2003, resulting in stricter penalties for possession.
How the police in Australia are organised
Australia is divided into six states: Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia. Each state has its own police service. Task Force Argos, which operated Childs Play, is located in Brisbane and is part of the Queensland Police Service.
In addition, Australia has:
** ACIC (Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission), whose main responsibility is to coordinate controlled operations.
** AFP (Australian Federal Police), whose main responsibility is to ensure national security.
** CCC (Corruption and Crime Commission), whose main responsibility is to oversee the police.
VG has been in contact with the ACIC, the AFP and the CCC. All give the same reply: «Contact the Queensland Police Service for questions about the operation».
The online child abuse operation, named Artemis, was a so-called controlled operation. Under a controlled operation Australian law permits the police to commit criminal acts, such as:
** Operating a sexual abuse site
** Misrepresenting their identity
** Publish abuse material
Investigator Paul Griffiths of Task Force Argos notes that the Australian police can go further than law enforcement agencies in other countries.
- I think it gives us an advantage – it gives us an opportunity to identify people through techniques that other countries don’t have the opportunity to do. And if that’s the case, you have to say that they are restricted in the potential they have to find some of the worst offenders that are on the internet, he says.
Police say more than 1,000 offenders arrested
The police minister and the Queensland Police Service have issued statements to VG pointing out that more than 1,000 offenders have been arrested in connection with more than 15,000 police reports filed since 2003.
In addition, they write, Task Force Argos has identified and rescued more than 500 children.
- I have no doubt that the victims who’ve been rescued feel the same appreciation that I do for the legislation introduced in 2003. It paved the way for the Queensland police to be able to investigate and prosecute offenders on the internet, police minister Mark Ryan writes.
Head of CCC announces new system
- Everything was wrong with the old system.
The words belong to the chair of the CCC, Alan MacSporran. The announcement was made at a press conference on Monday, according to the Australian newspaper The Courier Mail.
- The old system took «forever» to resolve cases and was clearly broken, he says, adding:
- It’s not good for the complainant. It’s not good for the service.
A dramatic change in the system is expected as soon as Parliament grants approval. Discussions on a new system began last June, according to the Australian newspaper.
The specific changes to occur will only be known upon parliamentary approval. Whether they will affect the CCC’s oversight of Task Force Argos remains unclear.