Undercover Police in chat rooms

Undercover Police in Online Chat Rooms

When stepping into online chat rooms, we’re not alone. Taking cover in the bustling chatter of emojis and gifs, undercover police officers weave through digital threads, observing, gathering evidence, and intervening when necessary to keep us safe. But they’re not just silent spectators – dressed up in everyday usernames like us, they can trust online personas, enabling them to blend seamlessly into our conversations. Sometimes, it’s the quiet “regular user” that holds the unseen badge, preventing illegal behaviour even before it unfolds. And so, we enter our chat rooms with a sense of security.

Undercover police officers may use various strategies, such as assuming different online identities and engaging in conversations to gather evidence, monitor criminal activities, and identify potential threats. These operations often involve adherence to strict protocols and legal guidelines to ensure effectiveness and maintain ethical standards, this may include pretending to be underage children to catch predators and tackle online grooming.

One of the more shocking appearances for chat rooms on TV and in the news was Chat Avenue, featured in a Channel 4 documentary called UK Undercover Police, but I also know for a fact that there are undercover officers on a site called chatiw and chatib, but these sites were not featured on this program.

undercover police in chat rooms
One of the police offices catching these predators online.

I am using this post and documentary “Undercover Police” which featured Chat Avenues kids chat rooms on channel 4 to discuss the website in question and if the Police are doing enough.

Do Police Lurk in chat rooms looking for predators?

Yes they do and it showed you how they did this on this program, it looks a pretty tough job when you are talking to predators too, it showed some of the conversations, which were very uncomfortable to watch.

This program showed how UK police were catching predators online, by going undercover as girls and boys in the kids and teen chat rooms to try to catch people who were breaking the law. There were lots of news articles about it, tracking them down via their conversations and IP addresses and generally doing a good thing.

These are people usually older men or women trying to get images or photos of younger children and even trying to meet people in real life, by befriending them and grooming them.

Some people think this is entrapment, but sitting in a chat room waiting for people to approach and engage in illegal activities is not considered entrapment, as it is like walking the police beat just in an online environment.

The police, in fact, released a web page showing the websites in question that had the biggest issues with predators. Chat Avenue was on the list, the list is on my previous post about chatiw if you want to go there there is a link to this list, you can click here to see.

How do the police find and trace people online?

By sitting in chat rooms and by engaging them in conversations on various websites and apps and letting people message them first and be bait, Chat Avenue is just one of the sites they mentioned in the documentary that they stake out, I do not know if they have intelligence or informants on which sites to target, presumably the police do know which sites have criminal activity on, as members of the public will have reported this.

Places like Twitter and Facebook Messenger are also places they monitor and probably many other unmentioned sites, where they would pretend to be an underage child and talk to the predators, letting the person lead the conversation and, once the law is broken, try to track them down or find them, I do not think this is entrapment because they are just sitting and waiting for messages to come to them.

In fact, most abuse is not happening on your small little chat site. It’s happening on the big sites like Facebook instant messenger and Twitter right under our noses. The only difference being is that Facebook and Twitter have abuse teams set up for this kind of issue.

How do they investigate and find abusers?

You see, when you log on to anything on the internet, you have to release your IP address to whichever site you use. This is something that must be done, or the website won’t load. All chat websites like mine log IP addresses along with times and dates of the different usernames and sessions used, this means that everyone’s history can be tracked, at least for a short time, until these logs are deleted or overwritten.

IP addresses are unique numbers provided by your internet company to help you get online. These addresses cannot be shared and are used by only one person at a time, so there are millions of them. If you have a home router, the router itself holds your IP address and creates your own unique network using the technology within the router, generally it will keep that IP address until you reset it, even then it may still pick up the same IP address but if you leave it for a long time, the IP address will change.

It’s all done very quickly, but this does leave a footprint for the police to be able to track you down and for website owners like us to track and ban you, and see what people are doing, you can track people logging in multiple users, or changing their usernames to abusive names then logging into the chat for example.

This is by no means fool proof; it can, in some cases, be harder to trace people using smartphones and the mobile network, as the IP addresses change so quickly, and you are usually relying on lots of people to provide you with accurate data.

There is also the use of VPNs, which hide your IP address behind another network provider, which is pretty much impossible to track. It is not clear how the police did catch them, as they would not want people to know this for obvious reasons. I only mention that here because most people who are up to no good on the internet know this.

I did also find it interesting they only seemed to be targeting men on these sites, it stand to reason there are going to be female abusers on these sites too, I know as in my use of chatrooms over the years I’ve met some, scary but true.

Where can I watch this program?

The program is no longer listed on the Channel 4 UK website. I am not sure why. Maybe because it is a sensitive issue and it does also involve using some pretty awful content which most websites don’t add to their articles because Google can filter your pages or website for using them, but you can find it on YouTube and some other video-sharing websites. It’s a tough watch, I admit, but interesting. It is also a job I could not do, even though I run a chat website.

What Support do the UK government and Police in the UK provide website owners?

This is pretty easy to answer, they don’t support us simple as that, anyone can own a website, even if you are a criminal, you can even setup a site for kids if you so wish, there are no laws against it, I am not saying their should be by the way, but it does feel like this is the kind of thing that should be monitored.

There is an interesting aspect to this documentary where one of the police officers says website owners should take more responsibility for their sites, implying we are somehow to blame for some of these issues, well what I would say is provide us with some ways to report people breaking the law, and make an effort to converse with us then.

Let me tell you something about the Police and the support I had for my website when I had some issues. I will tell you clearly I had ZERO support from the Police.

I have had 2 major incidents with my website over the years, where people were posting questionable images and one where a guy brandishing a knife at users on a webcam made awful threats. I raised this issue with the police and others with the internet watch foundation. I cannot tell you how stressful this period was; to get no help at all was awful.

What happened, you may wonder?

Nothing at all.

My first complaint to the police The police basically were not even slightly interested in seeing any kind of chat logs or evidence of the abuse and told me if I made a complaint it would have my address and my real name on it anyway, which obviously is not ideal. They talked me out of it. I was made to realise I had to deal with this myself. You can try to contact the host or ISP of the user, but this didn’t work either.

My complaint to the internet Watch foundation Didn’t hear a thing. I created a long email about what happened on my site and the internet watch foundation never emailed me once. I don’t even know if they read my email.

My email to their host Didn’t hear a thing, did the same as above, never even got an email or a reply.

Now I understand these people are busy. We are all busy, but the responsibility isn’t with just the website owners; the police and the other bodies need to support websites like us too. The internet watch foundation and the website hosts are part of this too.

If I report crimes and incidents and get no replies from the people who are supposed to help me, what is a website owner meant to do exactly? I don’t even know if anyone even read my email. They could have gone straight into the junk folder for all I know.

Website owners need to to do more?

We are already doing the maximum we can, there is no more we can do without help!

If no one can be bothered to take reports of crimes or even email you back, or even just say we have taken your details, we will look into this. It’s poor, and saying website owners need to do more is a complete cop-out literally, as chat website owners the only option we have when dealing with abuse is to ban these people.

This rarely goes well, most of the time the person comes back, they will send you death threats, find out where you live, call your home when they get your phone number, this is one of the reason why so many chat room owners don’t use their real name on their sites, because the abuse running a site like this can be awful, I would point out all of these things have happened to me.

As website owners there are 1000s of chats going on at one time, it is virtually impossible to monitor them all, I personally don’t even agree with kids being in chat rooms, but they are going to want to chat somewhere.

The documentary is a great program and goes on to show how they track down and arrest people. The guy from chat avenue was one of the people arrested.

Chat room owners are mostly responsible people.

Not all people who run websites like these are totally uncaring owners. I do not honestly know if Dan from chat Ave is. Most are just normal people and I met some funny owners of websites like usachatnow with Danny and Cozzi who run many websites, but Ukchat was one of them. Both very funny and not uncaring people, who also had run-ins with Dan from chat avenue too.

I remember speaking to Dan on Skype from Chat avenue and I happened to mention how his site seemed to attract a bad element to his site, with lots of X-rated content that seemingly was not kept in check. I said I went to your site and it was terrible. He instantly took exception to this and said that you were only jealous because my site is successful. That is not the reason I told him this. In fact, his chat room was chaotic, it was impossible to chat in there, and it still is, as the rooms are so large and people are constantly spamming the main room with X-rated images.

We argued for a little while. I cannot fully remember what was said, but he calmed down and we spoke about his chat for a little while. As I explained, I am not even in the same ball park as him. My site is totally different to his and targets a different audience and he went on to tell me how his site had got some publicity from a guy who suffered from chat addiction quite proudly as his site was mentioned in a newspaper and how happy someone with a chat addiction had got him some publicity.

But I remember being shocked at how personally he took me saying his site was bad. If you told me mine was, it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest as everyone is entitled to their opinion.  

I am pretty sure mine and Dans relationship is over, but it seems this site is not going anywhere. I spoke to a person who worked on his site. He told me his site makes around $1000 a day and is worth in excess of a million pounds. This does not surprise me and I found out similar when doing research about chatiw. Providing a chat room for a lot of people can make you a lot of money.

Now I would like to be clear. I am not blaming Dan for the content of the documentary. Personally, I would not have kids or teens chat rooms on my website, but I also accept kids have to chat somewhere. If they were not on Chat Avenue, it would be happening somewhere else. Maybe the police prefer it this way so they know where to find predators who knows the police never speak to website owners.

As a website owner, we usually set the age limits to 18 plus, for a few reasons that we want adults, but there is also an acceptance that some 16 and 17 year olds will lie about their age and end up on our site chatting. If someone says they are 18, there isn’t anything you can do. I cant check their id, for example, but most people want to chat with people around their own age.

I am sure kids all use Snapchat now. But they should be free to make new friends online, but the whole documentary shows how this can be abused. It is impossible to see every person’s private conversations. It’s impossible for Chat Avenue to stop this. Do I believe they could do more, of course, but all I can do is keep my own house in order.

​Ultimately, that’s going to go down to responsible parenting and monitoring what the child is up to and not the website in question. This kind of thing should be taught in schools what you should do online and what you shouldn’t.

Can individuals trust the privacy and confidentiality of their conversations in chat sites knowing that law enforcement officers may be present?

While the presence of undercover police in chat rooms is essential for protecting virtual communities from online predators, it does raise concerns about privacy and confidentiality. However, individuals can still trust the privacy of their conversations in chat rooms. Undercover operations primarily focus on identifying and apprehending potential threats rather than monitor innocent conversations. In fact, statistics show that a vast majority of chat room interactions remain private without any intervention from law enforcement agencies.

How do undercover-police officers gain access to chat groups without being detected?

Undercover police officers gain access to chat rooms without being detected through various methods. One commonly used approach is creating a fake online profile, assuming a false identity and blending in with the community. They carefully observe and participate in conversations, building trust with potential criminals while gathering evidence. In a survey conducted in 2023, it was found that 72% of law enforcement agencies use undercover operations to combat online predators, highlighting the effectiveness of this tactic. Additionally, advanced technological tools and encryption techniques further aid in maintaining their anonymity.

What measures can individuals take to protect their privacy and anonymity while using chats, especially if undercover police officers are a concern?

To protect privacy and anonymity in chat rooms, individuals should follow a few key measures. Firstly, use a secure and anonymous VPN connection to hide IP addresses and encrypt communications. Secondly, create a unique username not associated with personal information. Thirdly, avoid sharing personal details or photos that can be used to identify someone. Lastly, report any suspicious activity such as grooming or solicitation to the chat room moderators or local law enforcement. According to a study by Pew Research Centre, 86% of internet users have taken steps to mask their online activities and protect their privacy, highlighting the importance of these measures.

Are there any guidelines or protocols in place to ensure that covert police operations in chatrooms are conducted ethically?

Yes, there are guidelines and protocols in place to ensure that undercover police operations in chat rooms are conducted ethically. Law enforcement agencies have implemented strict policies that require officers to adhere to ethical standards during undercover operations, including respecting privacy rights, avoiding entrapment, and maintaining transparent communication with superiors. These guidelines aim to protect individuals’ rights while effectively combating online predators. Statistics show that the majority of undercover police operations in chat rooms result in successful arrests and convictions of online predators, indicating the effectiveness of these protocols while upholding ethical principles.

What are the legal implications of undercover covert law enforcement monitoring chat room conversations?

The legal implications of undercover police officers monitoring chat room conversations revolve around the balance between protecting virtual communities from online predators and respecting individual privacy rights. While the aim is to enhance public safety, concerns arise regarding entrapment, violation of First Amendment rights, and potential misuse of personal data. Additionally, ensuring proper surveillance oversight and adherence to legal protocols is crucial. Statistics from the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children reveal that in 2020 alone, there were over 20,000 cases of reported online child exploitation, underscoring the need for effective investigative measures within legal frameworks.

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