Government Technologist: DoD Must Confront Child Porn Issue - InformationWeek

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8/5/2010
12:51 PM
John Foley
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Government Technologist: DoD Must Confront Child Porn Issue

In the wake of an Inspector General report, John Foley argues that the Defense Department must take aggressive steps to prevent access to child porn on government PCs and review its policies for dealing with the problem.

Possession or distribution of child porn is a felony, but not all of the cases documented in the IG report resulted in prosecution. A civilian contract employee within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and with top secret clearance, turned up in the Operation Flicker investigation, but 14 months passed from the time his work computer was requested in July 2007 and the time it was secured by Defense investigators. (It appears that the person's employer, apparently Lockheed Martin, may have held the laptop during the interim.) No child porn was recovered, and the case was closed.

Many of the examples contained in the report illustrate the complexities of proving child porn possession even when the evidence points to it: Law enforcement authorities must work across jurisdictional boundaries; search warrants and equipment seizures take time, giving suspects a chance to cover their tracks; and the ages and identities of victims can be impossible to establish.

That's all the more reason for IT policymakers at DoD and elsewhere in federal government to be rigorous in establishing and enforcing policies aimed at prohibiting child pornography. A starting point is to bring together IT managers, HR reps, and agency lawyers to make sure everyone is working from the same set of rules and responses. The problem of child porn in the workplace is well recognized -- the private sector grapples with it, too -- and CIOs know that education on what constitutes child porn, Web filtering technology, policy enforcement, and organizational readiness to respond are all part of the answer.

If nothing else, IT managers at the Defense Department must learn from past experiences. Their policies and oversight must extend to government contractors; state-of-the-art Web filtering and virus scanning technologies must be fully implemented; warning signs must be acted upon; and internal investigations shouldn't wither on the vine due to lack of fortitude in dealing with them.

As they pay closer attention, it's critically important that IT personnel know what to do if they encounter child porn on workplace computers. In 2002, two PC administrators working at New York Law School were fired after discovering child porn on a professor's laptop. The professor, Edward Samuels, was convicted, but the IT admins were dismissed by their employer, Collegis, for other reasons.

DoD must confront this issue head on. Defense investigators were forced into action by ICE's Operation Flicker, not through their own initiative, and details of their investigation might have remained buried if it weren't for The Globe's FOIA request. Even now, the IG report is so heaving redacted that many details are missing.

I have asked DoD repeatedly in the past week whether it's pursuing any new IT policies as a result of the Operation Flicker investigation, but so far, no response. Let's hope Defense officials are busy preparing a course of action, not ignoring their responsibility to sexually abused children.

Recommended Reading:

"Worst-Case Scenario"

"Technology And The Fight Against Child Porn"

"Work/Life: When Things Go Wrong"

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