The European Commission has set up a coalition of public and private organisations to fight the growing problem of the sexual abuse of children on the internet, Commission Vice President Jacques Barrot said on Tuesday.
The number of websites containing images of child sex abuse quadrupled between 2003 and 2007, he said in a speech in London.
The aim of the coalition is to foster closer cooperation between police, financial operators such as credit-card companies and online payment services including PayPal, ISPs, and nongovernmental organisations that fight child exploitation on the internet.
The coalition also hopes to make it impossible for people to purchase photos online of abused children and to assist in identifying and protecting children featured on child pornography sites.
"The internet and applications from new technologies have provided organised crime with new tools. New technologies also make it easy for networks to operate regardless of borders and geography. They also pose new challenges to law enforcement agencies," Barrot said.
Child pornography networks on the internet have been identified recently in a number of European countries and have resulted in many arrests, said Barrot, who is responsible for justice issues, but this is just the "tip of the iceberg".
"Around 100 countries are involved in the distribution of images of child sex abuse. This is a growing phenomenon in Europe and throughout the world," he said.
The Commission has earmarked just under €500,000 to help establish the coalition, but Barrot acknowledged that won't be enough to tackle the problem across the European Union, and he urged national governments to participate.
Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and Microsoft are among the companies that have signed on to the coalition.
In addition to setting up the coalition, the Commission will also propose tightening existing laws to make it a criminal offence to access child pornography websites in the EU.. It will also try to make it impossible for people to visit such websites.
The latest initiatives follow the creation of the European Alert Platform last October. This was set up by the Commission together with the pan-European law enforcement agency, Europol.