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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.
But it's on Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., campus where some of the most interesting and potentially controversial work is under way. Developers there are considering ways to build into the Windows environment functionality that resists child pornography. "We are working internally to create products which are not going to be susceptible to that kind of misuse," says Rich LaMagna, director of worldwide digital integrity investigations and law-enforcement outreach for Microsoft.

THE UPSHOT
Reports of child pornography continue to increase



The proliferation of child porn is partly due to the proliferation of technology such as encryption, key-chain storage, and peer-to-peer networks



IT should be concerned: At least four states require IT technicians to report suspected child porn



Vendors such as Microsoft are working on ways to block child porn



It's unclear how far along Microsoft has gotten, but Hemanshu Nigam, a Microsoft lawyer whose background includes investigating child pornography at the Justice Department, has begun working directly with the Windows development group. Microsoft researchers also are exploring ways to determine whether a suspected child-porn image is authentic or a doctored-up digital composite.

Innovative uses of technology can make a difference. On Feb. 3, Toronto police released digital photos found on the Internet in hopes that the public might provide information on their origin. The image of the victim, a young girl, had been digitally erased from the pictures so that only the backgrounds could be seen. Police were hoping that someone might recognize the locations where the photos were taken, even though they were a couple of years old. Within hours, police got the lead they were hoping for when they learned that the pictures were taken at Walt Disney World in Florida, providing an extremely important clue in the case.

It's small victories like this that give child-protection advocates hope, despite the ever-expanding scope of this terrible trend. "We want to attack it at all levels, the supply and the demand," Immigration agent Cantor says. The mother of three adds, "I take it very personally."

-- with Marianne Kolbasuk McGee

Illustration by Anastasia Vasilakis

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