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Credit card checks for child porn welcomed

Evidence that was collected as part of the German Mikado raid Keystone

Credit card companies could be obliged to cooperate with the Swiss authorities in the fight against online child pornography, according to data protection experts.

This content was published on January 11, 2007 - 16:02

Earlier this week German police used customer details provided by credit card companies to track down suspected subscribers to an illegal child porn website.

Switzerland's Federal Data Protection Commissioner, Hanspeter Thür, came out in favour of a system based on the German model.

"I'm assuming that this method will be tried with a view to putting an end to the revolting issue of child pornography," Thür said, adding that there were no problems concerning data protection since it concerned uncovering a criminal act.

Thür said as part of the German raid the prosecutors had demanded all transactions for a specific account as well as a specific sum of money which were connected to products involving child pornography.

"The companies sifted through all their customers according to these two parameters and were able to say which of their customers had paid this amount of money to that account," explained Thür.

German police used the help of the country's 14 credit card companies which had voluntarily cooperated with the investigation to identify 322 suspects. The companies had screened transactions of all 22 million credit card holders in Germany.

Sifted data

Thür dismissed suggestions of inefficiency - "only" 322 suspects were uncovered as a result of the operation codenamed Mikado.

He also stressed that the rights of the vast majority of customers were unaffected since the data had been checked by the credit card companies and not by the police.

"As long as you had nothing to do with the account or the payment in question, your files were never dug up and therefore remained untouched," he said.

Swiss cantons also showed signs of interest. Roger Schneeberger of the Conference of Cantonal Justice and Police Directors, described the monitoring of all credit cards as a very good idea and acknowledged that "courageous people in Germany had done something".

Schneeberger said a committee would now discuss with the relevant federal offices whether a similar approach would be possible in Switzerland.

Anytime

Thür said that checking credit cards could happen anytime, pointing out that similar operations against online child pornography had previously been carried out.

Since 2002 cantonal and federal authorities had identified, as a result of two major operations, Genesis and Falcon, more than 1,500 people who had looked at child pornography online. More than half were eventually convicted.

The policy up until now entailed recording all contacts on a particular child porn site at a certain time and collecting the IP addresses from all computers involved.

Operation Genesis, which took place in 2002, was the biggest child pornography sweep in Switzerland. More than 1,000 people were questioned, following information received from the United States authorities.

swissinfo, Renat Künzi and Roger Delle

In brief

According to data for August 2006 there were around 3,7 million credit cards in Switzerland, but experts believe that the market is not yet saturated.

Four brands dominate the market: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Diners Club. The issuers are mainly banks.

In 2005 SFr21.1 billion was spent using credit cards.

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Fighting cybercrime

Cybercrime coordination unit Switzerland is where persons can report suspect internet subject matter. After an initial examination of the report and safeguarding of the data, the report is forwarded to the respective national or foreign law enforcement.

The unit also searches actively for criminal subject matter on the internet and is responsible for in-depth analysis of cybercrime.

It also answers questions from public, the authorities and the Internet Service Provider on cybercrime and is also the point of contact for foreign cybercrime units.

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