The CBI on Saturday carried out searches at 59 locations across 21 states and a Union Territory in an internationally coordinated law-enforcement crackdown on online circulation of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM), with officials here saying more than 50 suspects in the country are under the scanner.
The raids, part of Operation ‘Megha Chakra’, were launched after the agency registered two cases under relevant provisions of the Information Technology Act based on inputs from the Crime Against Children (CAC) unit of Interpol, based in Singapore, which had received it from the New Zealand Police, the officials said.
The agency is questioning suspects about illicit material found on their electronic devices so as to identify the victims and the abusers, a CBI spokesperson said.
“It was alleged that a number of Indian citizens were involved in circulation/downloading/transmission of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) using cloud-based storage,” the CBI spokesperson said after the Saturday raids were over.
“The said information received in Interpol from Law enforcement authorities of New Zealand was analysed and developed by CBI, and suspected persons were identified to locate and disrupt further distribution,” the spokesperson said.
The operation is targeted at cloud storage — hence the codename ‘Megha Chakra’– used by the peddlers to circulate audio-visual material on illicit sexual activities with minors.
Officials said the CBI, which was the first law-enforcement agency in India to set up a cyber crime unit, has hit CSAM peddlers across India in the operation.
A large number of electronic devices including mobile phones, laptops belonging to more than 50 suspects were recovered during the raids, they said.
“Preliminary scrutiny of these electronic devices using cyber forensic tools has allegedly revealed the presence of huge quantity of CSAM (Child Sexual Abuse Material) in a number of electronic devices” the CBI spokesperson said.
He said Operation ‘Megha Chakra’ is one of the major CBI-led global operations in recent times as a rapid response to online child sexual exploitation with international linkages and organised cyber-enabled financial crimes, where victims, accused, suspects, conspirators are located across global jurisdictions, requiring a internationally coordinated law-enforcement response.
“The operation will collate information from law-enforcement agencies in India, engage with agencies globally and coordinate closely through Interpol channels to combat online child sexual exploitation and such organized cyber criminal activities,” the agency said.
The CBI, which is hosting the 90th Interpol General Assembly next month, said coordination meetings were organised with the Interpol and foreign law-enforcement agencies for sharing critical information to dismantle such cybercrime networks.
The searches were spread across Haryana, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Chhattisgarh among others, officials said.
With PTI inputs