In May 2002, the UK police began something that came to be known as Operation Ore, a major undertaking, which allegedly targeted online child pornography.
7,272 British residents were added to a database of people who were alleged to have paid to view child porn online.
4,283 homes were searched, 3,744 people were arrested, and 1,451 were convicted.
It was advertised as a major blow being struck against pedophiles.
Or at least, that was the theory.
The United States had launched a similar operation previously I believe, ‘Operation Avalanche’ in 1999.
They had gathered around 35,000 entries in their database.
From that number, they only actually charged 100 of them.
If the US police could only justify prosecuting less than 1% of their suspects, how could it be that the UK police had arresting more than half of theirs ?
The answer could be that many of the UK cases were based entirely on the use of credit cards, that were used to sign up for suspected child pornography web sites.
It obviously did not take into account that many of the credit cards were stolen, nor the fact that many of the web sites contained only legal material.
Details, albeit minor ones, that appeared to have not been seen as being in any way relevant to the UK police it seemed.
The problem arose from the fact that many small porn sites had used online transaction processors to handle their credit card transactions, rather than setting up their own merchant accounts.
In particular, a company called Landslide, which was based in Texas, had provided credit card subscription services to a large network of affiliate porn sites.
It has been estimated, that up to half the money Landslide collected actually ended up in the hands of a ring of Indonesian credit card scammers, who were operating the well known “small charge” fraud.
Also (ab)using the service was a Brazilian hacker who had “signed up” more than 3,000 stolen credit card numbers.
Before long, Landslide found itself on the receiving end of thousands of chargebacks from irate credit card owners.
The company became bankrupt as a result.
The owner of Landslide could also been a victim of this fraud, in the same way as the credit card holders had.
That wasn’t a good enough excuse for US federal prosecutors, though; he ended up in jail where he is currently serving a 180 year sentence.
Meanwhile, the UK police were kept busy swooping on houses, kicking down front doors, seizing computer equipment, and arresting thousands of people on the basis that their credit card numbers had been found on Landslide’s hard drives.
Totally disregarding the massive amount of fraud that had dragged Landslide under, and not even considering whether the affiliate site the credit card holder had supposedly paid to see, was legal or not.
Was there justification for this ?
At least one affiliate website did in fact contain child pornography, so Landslide membership theoretically allowed users access to all the affiliate sites, meaning that Joe Bloggs’ credit card was used to sign up via Landslide, therefore Joe Bloggs signed up to view child porn.
Was that how it worked ?
The biggest problem with major police operations such as Operation Ore, is the public hysteria that surrounds child pornography and Peadophiles in general, (#paedobritain anyone?) and that if you are in fact accused, a person’s life can be totally destroyed even if, or when they are proven innocent at a later date.
Many employers will fire anyone as soon as the accusation emerges.
Thus, the ‘alleged pedophile’ finds himself out of a job, possibly even driven from the family home, as well as having all his computer equipment and his mobile phone seized by police, who have no legal obligation ever to return it.
Using only one example, consider the case of naval officer Commodore David White, the commander of British forces in Gibraltar.
He was suspended from the navy, who feared that the case would hit the newspapers.
It did anyway, but not in the way they expected – the Commodore had committed suicide by way of drowning.
As it was later discovered…. he was totally innocent.
So far, dozens of people have committed suicide as a direct result of Operation Ore.
The number of suicides was 35 back in 2009.
The true number as of today may be even higher, as not everyone leaves a suicide note.
It may well be the case that at least some of the deceased, and some of those who were accused were in fact guilty, but how does that weigh up against the simple fact that the majority were totally innocent?
“A somewhat scattergun approach, with no consideration shown as to whether or not any crime has been actually committed”, is one way it has been described in the media.
The police may also have become aware that things were starting to look rather bad for them, as they had also allegedly pressured the Internet search engine Google to remove certain websites which contained any references.
Journalist Duncan Campbell was acting as an expert witness in some of the subsequent defence cases, and has written extensively about Operation Ore in The Guardian.
A SLASHDOT article has some first hand experience in the comments.
Many men are still fighting to clear their names.
Compiled from various sources….