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Fight against child porn steps up a gear

Swiss police questioned hundreds of people under Operation Genesis

(Keystone Archive)

Tackling child pornography on the Internet is one of the goals of an international conference which opens in Thun on Tuesday.

Some 100 experts from around the world are hoping to exchange information and strengthen global cooperation at the three-day meeting, organised by Interpol.

Other topics to be discussed include sex tourism, child prostitution, trafficking and missing children.

"These are all fields where you can't do anything without international collaboration," federal police spokesman, Daniel Dauwalder, told swissinfo.

Keeping pace

Interpol has already set up a working group to investigate child pornography on the web and how to combat it.

The group is composed of experts from Japan, the United States and Western Europe, all of whom are working out ways to keep pace with rapid advances in technology.

Distributors of child pornography on the web leave few traces of their presence, making it difficult to track down and prosecute offenders.

Members of the working group, who will share their experiences with conference delegates, are also considering how to reduce the accessibility of child pornography on the web.

Large Swiss presence

Among those attending the conference are representatives of the United Nations Children's Fund, Unicef.

According to Unicef, one million children are forced into prostitution every year.

Non-governmental organisations such as ECPAT, which campaigns for the prevention of commercial sexual exploitation of children, and Child Focus, a Belgian-based centre for missing and sexually exploited children, will have observer status at the conference.

Switzerland's eight-strong delegation will include the director of the Federal Police Office, Jean-Luc Vez. The Swiss justice minister, Ruth Metzler, is due to attend the opening ceremony on Tuesday.

The Swiss delegation is one of the largest the country has ever sent to an Interpol conference, reflecting the fact that the meeting is taking place on Swiss soil.

"We will have access to the latest information and will be able to exchange our own findings with others," said police spokeswoman, Danièle Bersier.

Operation Genesis

The conference comes just weeks after a nationwide investigation in Switzerland which saw hundreds of suspects questioned for child porn offences.

All were accused of allegedly using credit cards to subscribe to United States-based child pornography web sites.

The nationwide search, dubbed Operation Genesis, followed information from authorities in the US, who provided Swiss officials with lists of subscribers to a US Internet company.

Under Swiss law, the possession or downloading of hardcore pornography - involving children, animals or violence - from the Internet carries heavy fines or a maximum sentence of one year in prison.

However, viewing child pornography on the Internet is not in itself a criminal offence.

Cross-border cooperation

Switzerland has set up a dedicated Internet surveillance unit, which will begin work next year.

It is expected to seek out and identify criminal acts on the Internet as well as coordinate the flow of information both between cantons and internationally.

Swiss efforts have been hampered in the past by a lack of coordination between federal and cantonal authorities.

Interpol has 179 member countries and facilitates information exchange between national police forces.

Interpol's child pornography database, which was set up in August 2001, carries details of about 150,000 perpetrators and victims.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Some 100 experts from around the world are due to attend the Interpol conference in Thun.
Topics to be discussed include tackling child pornography, sex tourism, child prostitution, trafficking and missing children.
The Swiss justice minister, Ruth Metzler, is scheduled to attend Tuesday's opening ceremony.

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