Operation Pin is the largest international drive yet to curtail the growing online marketplace for child pornography, said police on Thursday.
At a London news conference, detectives provided grisly details of a brisk international trade. The most extreme sites charge visitors to view adults abusing children in actual time and encourage them to type in suggestions on torture tactics, said police.
With investigators across the world swamped by child porn cases, Operation Pin represents a new twist with police taking the offensive by warning both hardcore paedophiles and curiosity-seekers that they are committing a crime.
"What we are saying is the internet is now a hostile place. If you are a paedophile and you are out there, we are going to make it much more difficult to operate," Jim Gamble, assistant chief constable, UK National Crime Squad
Fish for paedophiles
As part of the sting, police are to set up sites that purport to contain child porn images.
Visitors will be given the choice of proceeding through a series of Web pages that ultimately lead to a law enforcement site where they are informed their details have been captured and that they could be prosecuted.
Information on repeat offenders could be shared with a network of 181 police forces through Interpol. Police stressed they would not be posting pornographic images on the faux Web sites, but said they would be designed to look like the real thing to ensnare as many offenders as possible.
Operation Pin is being launched amid a fresh row in Britain over how police handle criminal investigation details of sex crime suspects.
"This is the first time we've come together on this scale to use the internet as a tool to combat child crimes"
assistant legal attache, FBI
The Home Office has called for an inquiry into how police checks of a man convicted of murdering ten-year-old girls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman failed to reveal he was the subject of multiple sex crime allegations, none of which resulted in a conviction.
The man, Ian Huntley, was sentenced on Wednesday to two life prison terms for the murders.
Operation Pin will be deployed by US, Australian, Canadian and British police. They declined to say when the sites would be launched.
Other European countries, including Germany, have expressed interest in joining the operation, said police.
"This is the first time we've come together on this scale to use the internet as a tool to combat child crimes," said Edward Gibson, assistant legal attache for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Gibson added that the crackdown will likely do little to stop the hardcore paedophiles who tend to collect and distribute images in murkier corners of the internet, including private file-sharing networks.
But, he said, it could deter the curious from participating.
There have been a series of recent arrests made, most recently in Spain and Germany, where child porn collectors and peddlers have been ensnared in multi-country cyber drag nets.