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Facebook, law, hinder child abuse probes

International legal frameworks are hindering police efforts to catch paedophiles on Facebook.

International legal frameworks are hindering police efforts to catch paedophiles on Facebook.

Snail image

(Snail image, by lukelukeluke, CC2.0)

Australian Federal Police (AFP) high-tech collection and capability manager Grant Edwards told a joint select committee this morning that the mutual legal assistance treaty with the US is outdated and not designed to allow for a rapid response to online crime.

The treaty is required because Facebook is head-quartered in the United States, and is meant to speed the actioning of the police's right to obtain information about online crime using a warrant.

Edwards said the AFP is still required to jump through archaic legal hoops in order to use US law enforcement as a conduit to force Facebook to respond.

The government has made remedial efforts to amend the assistance treaty in order to speed up the process of lawful data acquisitions. However, the changes would need to be ratified by the US to take effect.

Another problem, according to Edwards, is that Facebook hasn't been as helpful as it could. He said the social networking site had removed paedophile profiles that were needed as evidence by the AFP.

"It is ignorance on Facebook's behalf," Edwards said. "Facebook is brand-protecting."

"We don't hold back with letting them know our disappointment in [their lack of] evidentiary data retention."

He said the police had complained to the social-networking site, and that it will now move to fix data-retention policies for profiles suspected to be used by paedophiles.

It has also agreed to establish an Australian security head to field police take-down requests, after Edwards met with the company's chief legal officer in the United Kingdom last week. It is currently recruiting an officer for the position but has not inked a date for the role to be filled.

"We have been pushing for that role for some time now," Edwards said.

It took more than a month for Facebook to become aware of a fake Martin Bryant profile, identified in January this year, a delay which Edwards called "unacceptable".

The AFP will also dramatically increase the capacity of the Global Virtual Taskforce to combat online paedophilia to include more than 100 law enforcement units, up from just four. Australia took the lead of the taskforce from the United Kingdom in December last year.