Seventy-two people from the U.S. and other nations face child pornography charges for their alleged involvement in an Internet bulletin board focused on trading images and videos of people having sex with young children, two U.S. agencies announced.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday that three indictments and one complaint charging the 72 defendants have been unsealed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. Fifty-two of the 72 defendants have been arrested, with arrests happening in 14 countries, the agencies said.
So far, 13 of the defendants have pleaded guilty, and four have been sentenced to prison times ranging from 20 to 30 years, the DOJ said.
In December 2009, the agencies launched Operation Delego, targeting members of Dreamboard. Members of the online message board created a "massive private library" of pictures and videos of adults molesting children, the agencies said.
The members-only message board encouraged participants to create their own pictures and videos, the agencies said.
"The members of this criminal network shared a demented dream to create the preeminent online community for the promotion of child sexual exploitation but for the children they victimized, this was nothing short of a nightmare," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said during a press conference.
Operation Delego represents the largest prosecution in the U.S. of members of an online bulletin board operated for the sole purpose of promoting child sexual abuse, the agencies said in a press release.
Dreamboard members employed a variety of measures designed to conceal their criminal activity from detection by law enforcement, according to court documents. Links to child pornography posted on Dreamboard were required to be encrypted with a password that was shared only with other members. Members accessed the board via proxy servers, in an effort to disguise their locations.
Dreamboard members encouraged the use of encryption programs on their computers, the agencies said.
Dreamboard members were divided into groups based on status and ranking, court documents said The highest level of membership was for members who created new images of child pornography by molesting children and shared the images with board administrators. Those in lower ranks had access to a limited number of images and videos.
Some members referred to their creation of child pornography as a "hobby," Holder said.
Holder called on the public to report criminal activity related to child pornography. "I believe we're also sending a strong message to those who are willing to harm and exploit children, and who attempt to hide their activities from law enforcement," he said. "We will find you. We will stop you. And we will bring you to justice."
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is email@example.com.