Eight years ago, Ernie Allen of the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children called the heads of major banks and credit card companies and asked why were they letting child pornographers move illicit profits through their systems, says the New York Times. So began a collaboration between his organization, major banks, credit card companies, Internet service providers, payment processors, and Internet companies like Google and Microsoft. They had hoped to follow the money and quash child pornography for good.
At some point the money trail went cold. Allen has been working with global law enforcement and financial leaders to find out why. Cybersecurity experts say billions of dollars made from child pornography and illicit sales of things like national secrets and drugs are being moved through anonymous Internet payment systems like Liberty Reserve, the currency exchange whose operators were indicted Tuesday for laundering $6 billion. Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, described it as the largest online money-laundering case in history. “What we have concluded is that illegal enterprises — commercial child pornography, human trafficking, drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and organized crime — has largely moved to an unregulated system that is not connected to any central bank or national authority,” Allen said. “The key to all of this has been anonymity.”