The Hon. R. SANDERSON (Adelaide—Minister for Child Protection) (17:23): I rise to speak on the Statutes Amendment (Child Exploitation and Encrypted Material) Bill 2018 and commend the Attorney-General for bringing back to this place the bill that was introduced but not passed by the former government.
Those involved in the online child exploitation industry are not restricted by their geographical location. From living rooms, perpetrators are able to maintain their anonymity and satisfy their illegal and perverted sexual proclivities. Those engaged in this behaviour often have zero regard to the true victims of their offending: the children depicted in the footage and images they are viewing. From behind their computer screens, these perpetrators engage with other like-minded criminals from around the globe. Time and time again, the innocent children who are depicted in the footage and images are exploited.
The magnitude of this industry is phenomenal. The FBI has estimated that there are 750,000 child predators online, and an estimated 150 million images and videos documenting child exploitation are available online. It is said that child exploitation is a billion-dollar industry, a very real motivator to those who seek out opportunities to produce more child pornography to feed the insatiable appetite for money. Each of these perpetrators, by their engagement, encourage the proliferation of child sexual exploitation by the very act of viewing and often paying for access to this material.
The name Shannon McCoole is tragically familiar to many across South Australia. While his sexual abuse of children in care has been widely reported, what many may not know is that at the time of his arrest in June 2014, McCoole was the administrator of a child pornography website on the dark web. McCoole's online identity was a secret. He was known by a codename and his image represented by an avatar. His site had 45,403 members across the globe.
The headquarters for that website was his filthy home. McCoole lived alone. Reports suggest mounds of clothes on his bedroom floor, a box overflowing with empty Crown Lager bottles, dirty dishes stacked in his sink, spare rooms full of junk and a step-up machine gathering dust. In his lounge room, on a table, was his laptop: his tool to enter the dark web and his dark secret.
Police did not fortuitously stumble across Shannon McCoole. In 2010, police in Toronto were checking the IP address of a child pornography collector, which revealed the name Brian Way. By the time of his arrest, Way, an entrepreneur, had built a multimillion dollar child-abuse film distribution racket using a company named Azov Films. Unlike his dishevelled home, Way kept meticulous business records. Police learned that about 40 of his 370 customers were based in Australia, and more specifically, in Queensland.
One of Azov Films' Australian customers lived in the Brisbane suburb of Banyo. When police entered that property, they found that the occupant was a member of the burgeoning dark web site KidClub. In the hope of reducing his penalty, the customer gave the details required to log into KidClub. A prerequisite of joining was posting videos or photographs of hardcore preteen pornography.
KidClub was accessed using encryption software specifically designed to conceal a user's identity by routing through more than 6,000 computer servers around the world. This process meant that law enforcement officers could never trace the IP addresses to the original computers and was supremely attractive to privacy-conscious paedophiles. After a hosting service for KidClub was shut down by American law enforcement officers, KidClub relaunched and soon became the largest child exploitation network in the world.
In 2014, Dutch investigators arrested a member, and soon after, other senior members were arrested in Denmark and Sweden. However, the administrator, who was also producing and distributing his own videos, remained unidentified. It was the persistence of law enforcement officers that, over time, led to the identification and arrest of Shannon McCoole. McCoole pleaded guilty to nine counts of sexual abuse of children. Further, he pleaded to seven counts of aggravated producing child pornography, one aggravated count of disseminating child pornography and one aggravated count of possessing child pornography. McCoole did not plead guilty and was not sentenced for any charge relating to his administration of the KidClub website.
This bill not only criminalises the actions of administrators of child pornography websites but also provides broader protections to the victims of child exploitation by providing law enforcement officers the power to seek court orders requiring a person to provide necessary information or assistance, including the ability to seek an urgent order where the preservation of data may be at risk, and additional offences relating to concerns around impeding investigations by tampering with data. I commend this bill to ensure the net is securely closed around those who engage as administrators in this insidious, exploitative and life-destroying industry.