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Bill Gates Fights Child Porn

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Oct 8, 2003 12:00 AM PDT    Text size: 
TORONTO, Canada -- On a whim, Detective Sgt. Paul Gillespie of the Toronto Police Sex Crimes Unit sent a cry for help to multi-billionaire Bill Gates via email. The 25-year veteran was initially looking for a software solution that would make it easier for Canada's child pornography task force to deal with the avalanche of perverse images they are forced to examine during child porn investigations.

According to Gillespie, the vastness of the Internet has made handling the increase in child pornography nearly impossible. Unlike the U.S. and the U.K, Canada does not currently have the resources to combat the growing number of child abuse crimes and the surplus of materials and content that accompanies that growth.

"Several years ago you might see 15 pictures, 20, 100, or 150, and a few videotapes. Now we're to the point, on a typical seizure, where we could see up to 10,000, 100,000, 500,000 images," Gillespie said. He went on to say that so much exposure to awful images of small children being exploited has overwhelmed his task force and slowed down their investigative power significantly, which currently requires a huge amount of labor, time, and money.

Much to Gillespie's shock, Bill Gates responded to his email and forwarded it to Microsoft's Canada offices. Not long after, Gillespie was in close talks with representatives for Microsoft Canada on what his police force needed in terms of automating the process of hunting down child pornography producers and distributors.

Paula Knight of Microsoft Canada told XBiz that Microsoft has been in frequent contact with Gillespie since their initial meeting. The effort to streamline and empower the Canadian police force's search for child exploiters has been difficult, but it is well on its way to fruition.

"We met with the police to understand what challenges they were facing and see how we could help," she told XBiz. "Right now we are in the 'vision and scope phase' of developing the software and discovering how it can best serve the overwhelming challenges that these officers face."

So far Microsoft Canada has donated $600,00 dollars to the project, which is slated for launch in the coming months.

The project will be rolled out in three parts, according to Knight. First there is the actual solution, called the Child Exploitation Linkage Tracking System (CELT), which documents all information available on child pornography suspects and victims and makes it easier for sex crime task forces to track down people who are directly involved in the dissemination of child porn.

CELT stores content that is retrieved and creates a searchable database that can trace similarities between cases, and analyze and classify pictures deemed child pornography. CELT is open standard and can be bundled with all other types of agency software.

The second and third phase will involve extensive training for the Canadian police force and an educational campaign directed at families with small children to better identify the risks of the Internet.

"Often what these officers find is that they are dealing with a very sophisticated level of technology and user knowledge, on the part of the offenders," said Knight. "Microsoft is working to create a solution that will better equip these investigative task forces to deal with child pornography and elevate the issue."

In addition, Adult Sites Against Child Pornography (ASACP), the organization that helps the adult site industry make a difference in the battle against child pornography, is working toward a similar goal in the crackdown on child porn.

Volunteer Chief Technology Officer Brandon Shalton is in the process of developing a hashing module that will enable ASACP to digitize child pornography images and automate a portion of ASACP's review process.

Until then, ASACP is waiting for technical approval from the FBI and Department of Justice in Los Angeles to move forward on its project.

"ASACP is pleased that Microsoft is developing such software that will help apprehend people who produce child pornography," said Joan Irvine, executive director for ASACP. "We are working on a similar system and look forward to coordinating our efforts with Microsoft in the future."

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