Revealed: NZ's shocking link to child sexual exploitation images

Newshub Nation can reveal that in April, a global count found thousands of links hosting child sexual abuse material are using the .NZ domain. Some are blaming data storage site for New Zealand's appearance in the study.

Twitter is being used to openly share material hosted on Mega. Every couple of minutes a new tweet promises links to the worst content imaginable, advertised using the hashtag #Megalinks, and other similar hashtags.

The hashtags refer to data site Mega. It's headquartered here in New Zealand, along with some of its servers.

"This is about young children and even toddlers and babies who are being raped and abused, and people are paying for that content, and people are profiting from sharing that content," Child Alert director Eleanor Parkes told Newshub Nation.  

"It's not something that's only overseas and we can close our eyes to it."

It's not just overseas. Some child sexual abuse material is produced in New Zealand. It's certainly viewed here - the Department of Internal Affair's filtering system blocks more than 10,000 attempts to access known child abuse sites from New Zealand every month.

Police, Customs and the Department of Internal Affairs are tasked with stopping the abusers.

"They have to be aware of the harm that they are causing to the children when this material is being produced, that they will be held accountable," Detective Inspector Stuart Mills, manager of intercept and technology operations, told Newshub Nation. 

In April, a global count by the internet Watch Foundation found thousands of links using the .NZ domain are hosting child sexual abuse material; 2 percent of the links assessed.

There were 2,503 separate URLs using .NZ - making it the fourth most common domain for child abuse material after .COM, .NET and .RU - that's Russia.

Child Alert says New Zealand's domain has come up so highly because of Mega.

However at Mega's headquarters in central Auckland, director Stephen Hall rubbishes the report.

"Well, frankly, I don't think it's of much use or relevance at all, apart from the fact that they've mixed some misleading statistics together," he told Newshub Nation. 

Hall says others are also using the .NZ domain name for child abuse material - that it's not just Mega. 

"I accept that every platform in the world has child abuse material on it. It's a well-known fact."

Newshub Nation child abuse stats
Photo credit: Newshub Nation

The Internet Watch Foundation told Newshub Nation its data is accurate, and that one URL can contain hundreds, even thousands of illegal images or videos.

Mega has a team that closes reported accounts. They say in the past eight years they have closed more than half a million accounts for sharing child sexual abuse content, and those working in this space, including police, say they are good to work with.

Police told Newshub Nation that Mega is just one of a number of platforms where some of this information and material is hosted and they work with each platform to take the content down as soon as they become aware of it. 

There's concern that if Mega was shut down, abusers would find somewhere else to hide their material, perhaps somewhere that wouldn't cooperate with police as swiftly as Mega does. 

But child advocates say Mega should be doing more.

"They take all the steps they should once it's reported. The issue is that they're not doing anything proactive to prevent their platform from being used in this way," says Parkes.

But according to Hall, Mega's process is working well. 

"We would always look at new opportunities to do more. But at the moment we're finding the current process is incredibly efficient and productive at getting rid of this content."

Mega is the evolution of Megaupload, founded by German-Finnish entrepreneur Kim Dotcom. Wanted for extradition by the United States on fraud charges he denies, Dotcom is no longer involved in Mega's operations, but his family trust still holds some shares.

According to the companies register, although it's mostly owned by Hong Kong Company Cloud Tech Services Limited, the majority of its five directors are New Zealanders: Shane Te Pou, Wei Wang and Stephen Hall.

Child Alert says encryption is a huge challenge. But security and privacy are core to Mega's service - the site's tagline is "the privacy company".

Hall says those promises of privacy aren't what attracts people looking to hide their illegal content.

"The fact that Mega's platform works very well and is technically very proficient... that's what attracts most users, a tiny percentage of whom carry out illegal activity," he said.

Twitter told Newshub Nation it aggressively fights child sexual abuse, has teams removing content, and has swept the Mega-related hashtags we provided.

But a quick scan after Twitter's sweep showed, while there was some improvement, there were new tweets every few minutes promising the trade of child sexual abuse images, some of them using code words.

Digital Communications Minister David Clark said most Kiwis would find it "absolutely abhorrent". 

"That is something that is an ongoing challenge for all developed countries, and something this Government takes incredibly seriously," he told Newshub Nation. 

He said companies like Twitter and Mega were "absolutely committed" to taking down material when notified, and are "working actively on how they can identify that material" before others can download it.

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