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Lawful evidence collection in online child sexual abuse investigations, including undercover


The use of online undercover investigation techniques is an important asset for Police Authorities in infiltrating the networks of sexual abusers of children. These methods have proven very effective in understanding offender behaviour and interaction of online service providers, and have ultimately facilitated the shutting down of communication channels used by these offenders, as well as their prosecution. An increasingly important need for Police Authorities’ activity in these spaces is the ability to effectively infiltrate particularly dangerous online groups of offenders, while making sure that the evidence obtained will be admissible in court. EU values and fundamental rights shall stay in the core of any future measures. Research in this area should tackle legislative frameworks to collecting evidence in online, including undercover, investigations of child sexual abuse, leading to guidelines and manuals that would make the capability available across the EU to target these offenders more effectively. The results of this research topic (training, manuals guidelines) should be shared among all European Police Authorities, notably via CEPOL, provided that the Agency opts out from applying for funding under this topic. The successful proposal should build on the publicly available achievements and findings of related previous national or EU-funded projects as well as create synergies with similar on-going security research projects from the Calls 2021-2022 on Fighting Crime and Terrorism in the area of digital forensics and countering child sexual abuse, in order to avoid duplication and to exploit complementarities as well as opportunities for increased impact.

Since the use of undercover agents online could be beneficial in other crime areas too, particularly in counter terrorism, analysis of possibilities for the developed approaches to be adapted to these other crime areas would be welcome. Special care needs to be given to ethics and fundamental rights protection throughout the research and the solutions proposed. This topic requires the effective contribution of SSH disciplines and the involvement of SSH experts, institutions as well as the inclusion of relevant SSH expertise, in order to produce meaningful and significant effects enhancing the societal impact of the related innovation activities.

Proposals funded under this topic are expected to engage with the Europol Innovation Lab during the lifetime of the project, including validating the outcomes, with the aim of facilitating future uptake of innovations for the law enforcement community.