Technology And The Fight Against Child Porn - InformationWeek
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2/11/2005
01:35 PM
John Foley
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Technology And The Fight Against Child Porn

Online child pornography is a growing problem that the I.T. industry can't ignore.

There are other reasons for child-porn distributors and consumers to look over their shoulders. Last spring, federal and state law-enforcement agencies announced a crackdown on the use of peer-to-peer file-sharing networks for child pornography that, at the time, had already resulted in hundreds of searches and dozens of arrests.

Despite such signs of progress, Aftab isn't alone in worrying it's not enough. "The problem is that as law enforcement increases the number of cases, it's increasing in a linear fashion, whereas the problem is exploding in an exponential way," says Robert Flores, administrator of the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

There's also growing concern that the public is becoming desensitized to the issue of child pornography, as evidenced by incidents involving teenagers who create and share sexually explicit images of themselves or other teens that fit the definition of child pornography. "Kids are producing child porn and selling it," Aftab says. "It's crossed the line from the most contraband and heinous of all content to something everyone has seen or think they've seen."


WiredPatrol.org child pornography awareness poster -- ''Child Pornography ... Behind every picture there's pain. -- small version

(click image for larger view)

Wired Kids put out this public-service advertisement.
What can be done? Aftab and others say an increased emphasis on education and awareness is the next step. Wired Kids plans to merge its operations with Safeguarding Our Children--United Mothers (www.soc-um.org), a nonprofit organization also dedicated to child safety, and the combined group will focus on child-protection and cybersafety awareness and education.

The Justice Department plans to step up its messaging, too. "We want to start to educate kids about the danger of that whole industry, that it's not a benign thing," Flores says. "Once you get sucked in, all sorts of things can happen." Among the associated risks are online enticement, sexual molestation, and child prostitution.

Industry groups representing peer-to-peer companies, under pressure to curb the use of their products for child pornography, have joined the fight. "We can and are playing a role in the education process and even in facilitating law enforcement," says Adam Eisgrau, executive director of Peer-to-Peer United.

Private-sector companies are getting more proactive. One of the reasons the number of reports to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's hot line has jumped is that Internet service providers, in compliance with federal law, are reporting suspicious activity in greater numbers. And Immigration agent Cantor credits Visa and MasterCard with helping in the Falcon case. "The unfortunate reality of this business is they're very persistent," says a spokeswoman for Visa International, which uses a brand-protection service from NameProtect Inc. to identify Web sites that accept Visa cards as payment for child pornography and then reports those sites to law-enforcement agencies. "The site will shut down in one place then reopen in another. The problem doesn't go away."

Most companies monitor employee use of the Internet, some more strictly than others. At ATF Inc. "objectionable sites and/or material accessed from the work environment are cause for disciplinary action up to and including dismissal," says Gerald Spering, director of IT at the automotive-parts maker, in an E-mail. ATF uses Internet-monitoring tools "to try to protect employees from exposure to" such content, Spering says, but he points out that it's more difficult to control what mobile workers such as salespeople access from the road with portable PCs.

Technology plays an increasingly important role in criminal investigations. Microsoft has been working with law enforcement in Canada for more than a year to build a database to be used for child-porn investigative work. The soon-to-launch Child Exploitation Tracking System will make it possible for Canadian police to share case information in real time and map out relationships between people, connecting the dots among the shady characters who distribute and access child porn.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
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