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August 27, 2015

Dark Places: Child Pornography and Refuge on the Dark Net.

Flickr/Luis Hernandez

Like many, I tend to think of the internet as the place where everything and anything goes.

Thanks to Google, we can access anything we want in mere seconds—whether it’s retail items, medical information or porn.

While many of us assume that everything that is out there is visible—that there is no hiding on the internet—that is incorrect. It turns out there are many places on the Net that are hidden.

Simply put, these hidden places, also referred to as the dark net or dark web, are webpages that “use encryption software to hide identities and mask browsing history.”

Many people are unaware of the dark net and indeed, until last month, I had never even heard of the term. (I learned of it from the novel Night Film, in which the journalist protagonist learns about and gains access to some “dark pages” in his attempts to learn more about a reclusive film director whom he is investigating.)

While some people use dark pages for fairly innocuous reasons, like the above, others have far more sinister intentions, like the dissemination of illegal content—including child pornography.

In most countries, including the U.S., merely looking at pornographic images of minors is a criminal offensive. Those who distribute it and/or make it are looking at possible decades in prison if caught. Therefore, dark pages can seem like a dream come true for pedophiles.

Recently in Australia, the Queensland Police cracked down on a “major global online sex abuse network” that lead to arrests around the globe. The site, which officials will not name, was brought to the police’s attention following the arrest of a man (who, chillingly, was a child caretaker) who was ultimately jailed for over 30 years for molesting seven children in his care and distributing child pornography.

He was a member of the online site.

Over the next 10 months, the police took over the site, posing as those interested in sharing child pornography. Members, they say, included people from Australia, the UK, Europe and the U.S.

The Queensland sting represents the best and worst things about the dark net: On one hand, it can be used as a tool to catch criminals who prey on the innocent. On the other hand, it can also provide a haven for said people and indeed, that was the original intent of this particular site.

It is disturbing to think what would have happened had the police not taken it over or to speculate how many people came and went there before the sting took place. When it comes to the latter, I cannot help but think it is likely that they have gone to other dark places on the internet that law enforcement may never find.

Given that the dark net already exists, and considering the sheer vastness of the internet, it’s impossible to ever ban such places. Plus, in all fairness, the dark net is not all necessarily dark. With the rise of internet trolls and bullying, I can see the appeal of dark pages to discuss things such as politics without the fear of being harassed. (This is especially true in my case, since I am a woman, and women are much more likely to be abused online than men.)

Still, I would have to be pretty naive to think that most of the dark net is used as a refuge for those seeking intelligent conversation without being harassed.

While I value my online privacy as much as the next person, there is something to be said for avoiding these dark places unless one is absolutely sure of the purpose. (Many dark pages masquerade as other things just in case they happen to be found by law enforcement.)

Ultimately, there may be many dark places and content on the internet that will never go away, but at the very least, we can avoid them if we choose.

Further Reading:

Queensland operation

Cracked

BBC

Vice

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Author: Kimberly Lo

Editor: Toby Israel

Photo: Flickr/Luis Hernandez

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