"Chennai tops the list with 150 addresses, followed by Coimbatore with 40, and Trichy with 20," a top official tells TNM.

news Crime Sunday, January 19, 2020 - 15:54

In the first week of December 2019, the Crime against Women and Children Wing in Tamil Nadu issued an ultimatum. It was a warning for every person in the state who had illegally downloaded child sexual abuse material on to their phones and computers. The message from the police was simple – “We are coming for you.”

Six days later, on December 12, the crackdown had officially begun. The first arrest took place in Trichy district, where a 42-year-old air conditioner mechanic was arrested for allegedly possessing and distributing child sexual abuse material. The man had allegedly used multiple Facebook profiles to share the material, simply creating another ID even if the social media site suspended one account.

On January 4, a 23-year-old from Assam who worked in a tiles factory in Assam was arrested for possessing child sexual abuse material. And a day later a bus conductor from Avinashi in Tirupur district was arrested under the Protection of Children for Sex Offences (POCSO) Act.

The latest arrest in this crackdown was from Chennai on January 13. A computer science graduate who owns a shop that sells gym equipment on Montieth Road was arrested from the Chennai airport for downloading and sharing child sexual abuse material. According to the police, the accused had allegedly downloaded the material from the dark web on April 29, 2019. He shared it via Facebook Messenger, using different browsers to remain anonymous. And while he initially denied the crime, he was forced to admit in the face of evidence.

But according to sources in the Crime against Women and Children Wing, the hunt for offenders has just begun. A top official in the department tells TNM that they have a list of 600 IP addresses from across the state, and they have been segregated district wise and given to the respective police chiefs.

"Chennai tops the list with 150 addresses, followed by Coimbatore with 40 and Trichy with 20," says the official to TNM. "We had initially expected over 1,000 addresses, so this was a lower number than we were prepared for," he adds.

While it was intially reported that the police were getting these IP addresses from the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, the official says there is also another source, an organisation, that is working with the police to identify people downloading child sexual abuse material and that its name cannot be made public.

"There are multiple ways in which we track down IP addresses. One is to track certain websites and create a system where we get alerted when material is downloaded from them,” says the official. "Most of the material itself is created abroad but there is also child sexual abuse material being created in India and specifically Tamil Nadu. We would ideally like to stop the creation of such content. But that would require us to track down the child first and through them, the culprits. This has to be done very sensitively and is a long drawn process. We can't allow the child's identity to be revealed in any manner," he adds.

The police are however confident that they will put an end to distribution of the perverse material in Tamil Nadu by the end of 2020.

"We are monitoring closely and have already seen a positive impact. Fear of arrest has forced many people to close and delete online groups sharing child sexual abuse material. These 'adult groups' will begin dwindling now that people realise that what they are doing is illegal and has consequences," he adds, "Meanwhile, the arrests based on the IP addresses will continue unabated."