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U.S. Senate Authorizes $1 Billion to Fight Child Porn

U.S. Senate Authorizes $1 Billion to Fight Child Porn
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May 20, 2008 9:00 AM PDT    Text size: 
WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee has unanimously approved an amended version of the Combating Child Exploitation Act, which would authorize more than $1 billion over eight years to fight Internet crimes that victimize children.

Introduced in 2007 by Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), the bill aims to provide resources to federal, state, and local police that includes the ongoing development and deployment of software tools used to identify and locate individuals that use P2P file-sharing networks, message boards and other technology to trade illegal child pornography.

The bill includes provisions for hiring 250 new federal agents for the FBI; the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); and the U.S. Postal Service; as well as the purchasing of new equipment, technology and computer forensics laboratories.

"We need to give law enforcement the funds and the tools to pull the plug on Internet predators," Biden said.

"We applaud all efforts to help protect our children. It is good to see that the government is creating a national database with this information. It is important for effectiveness and economy of scale to have one database," Joan Irvine, CEO of the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP) told XBIZ. "The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) is already a clearing house for reports of child abuse and child pornography and has such database. So, my concern is that they will just duplicate NCMEC's efforts."

Amendments to the original bill clarify the illegality of live cam shows featuring underage performers and the digital manipulation of otherwise innocent images of children that are altered to depict sexually explicit activity.

The bill establishes within the Office of Justice Programs an Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC Task Force), creating task forces in each state that will combat the online enticement of children, child exploitation, and child obscenity and pornography cases.

The bill also amends the federal criminal code to authorize wiretapping in state child exploitation investigations.

Regardless of any investment in technology, many of the commercial providers of illegal child pornography — as well as the victims depicted in this material — may well remain beyond the reach of U.S. lawmakers.

"Ninety percent of the commercial child pornography is distributed by organized crime in the Eastern Bloc countries by what appear to be a handful of 'companies,'" Irvine said. "Also, the majority of the images are of children from third-world countries so U.S. law enforcement is limited in their ability to protect these victims."

Biden was among a handful of lawmakers that attended a hearing last month where a Wyoming-based software tool known as "Operation Fairplay" was discussed. The tool will be incorporated into the new National Internet Crimes Against Children Data Network Center, hosted on the FBI's Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS), allowing law enforcement agencies greater access to the technological resources needed to fight tech-savvy child porn traders and child molesters using social networking sites to prey on minors.

The new bill allocates funding to improve Fairplay's capabilities and access by a growing number of agencies.

While details of the system are understandably scarce, agents reportedly use Fairplay to download suspicious files from file-sharing networks; targeting those files that contain keywords that suggest that the files contain child pornography.

According to Irvine, filenames may not be the most accurate way of identifying illegal images, however, as many of these files have been renamed and are in fact multiple instances of the same file.

"Keyword searching is one tool to find multiple occurrences of suspect images, but a more effective method is use a 'hash' value of an image and scrub for that image," Irvine said. "ASACP proposed such a solution almost four years ago, but because ASACP is not law enforcement and not a large company, we could not obtain the necessary permission to convert images to hash values. We even offered this service for free to law enforcement. [Using hash values] one does not need to download a 20 minute video; you know if it is child porn within a few seconds."

Fairplay reportedly reveals the "unique serial number" of the computer that was used to upload the suspect file onto the P2P network and display that user's location on a map. Agents won't comment on the exact technology being employed, but tech experts have speculated that it involves more than the computer's IP address.

Although more than 640,000 suspect computers have been thus identified within the United States, current resources only allow for investigating roughly two percent of them — one of the situations that the new bill intends to address.

"Sometimes the criminals hijack people's computers to use them to distribute CP without the owner even being aware of it and many times these criminals use a series of proxy servers so it may seem that a computer is in the U.S., but the images are really on a computer in Russia," Irvine said. "Law enforcement should spend their time looking for major criminals, not waste their efforts going after the people who download images."

Indeed, going after consumers that may have inadvertently downloaded an illegal file may be as problematic as going after many of the non-commercial 'producers' of what is legally classified as "child pornography."

"The fastest growing segment of CP images is being made and distributed by the kids themselves [where] a teenage girl (usually) will take a picture of herself using her cell phone and send it to her boyfriend," Irvine said. "When they break up, her boyfriend will send the picture to all his friends or someone will Photoshop someone's head to a naked body and send that around — this is cyber-bullying [and should be treated as such]."

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