“Clandestine websites fuel ‘alarming’ increase in child porn” by Kevin Johnson

This is an excerpt from a recent article published by USA Today. The source of this excerpt is http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/02/19/child-pornography-dark-web/5184485/

An estimated 50,000 people in the U.S. are believed to be “consistently trading illegal images” involving children at any one time.

Often, as the homemade videos begin streaming across the computer screen, unwitting children appear holding homemade placards bearing the pseudonyms of the macabre films’ makers.

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Drew Oosterbaan is chief of the Justice Department's child exploitation unit. Image courtesy of USA Today.

Drew Oosterbaan is chief of the Justice Department’s child exploitation unit. Image courtesy of USA Today.

The makeshift message boards represent claims of credit for the ghastly images that follow…

[…]

The cache of images are among the most vile, yet valued, commodities on what is known as the “dark Web.” It is an ever-expanding part of the Internet where Drew Oosterbaan, chief of the Justice Department’s unit investigating crimes against children, says purveyors of the material have found social status based on their continued and escalating activities.

Last year, more suspects were arrested for child exploitation crimes — 7,386 — than at any time in the past five years, according to Justice Department records gathered from 61 Internet Crimes Against Children task forces across the nation.

image courtesy of USA Today.

image courtesy of USA Today.

That number, however, is dwarfed by an estimated 50,000 people in the U.S. who are believed to be “consistently trading illegal images” involving children at any time, says Brad Russ, who oversees federally funded training programs for hundreds of investigators assigned to the national task forces. The enormous number of participants, Russ says, is based on the downloads of known prohibited videos and photographs that can be tracked to individual computers.

The universe of known images has ballooned since 2002, the year of the creation of the Child Victim Identification Program, which serves as a national repository for information on young victims, says John Shehan, executive director of the Exploited Children Division at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).

More than 100 million images and videos of suspected child abuse have been referred to the program housed within NCMEC to assist in criminal investigations and for the purpose of locating child victims, Shehan says.

“It is alarming,” Russ said of the numbers, adding that suspects increasingly try to shield their activities from law enforcement.

They cloister themselves behind encrypted IP addresses and password-protected sites where they have found “validation, acceptance and encouragement” to find new victims, Oosterbaan says.

[…]

Shehan, of NCMEC, says that while the identification and arrest of the image-makers and distributors is important, it is only the beginning of an even more time-consuming — and often frustrating — effort to locate the victims featured in the images and videos.

“When you finally recover the material, you are always left with the same question: Where in the world are these children?” Shehan says.

Since the creation of the Child Victim Identification Program 12 years ago, 5,400 victims have been identified. The number, Shehan says, may represent only a fraction of the actual number.

“There could be thousands of others that we’re still looking for,” he says.

[…]

Among the most powerful tools law enforcement is using to break distribution rings and start the tracking of child victims is software that allows authorities to virtually map the locations of suspects.

The technology, known as ICAC (Internet Crimes Against Children) Cops, tracks the coding of images recovered in previous investigative operations that have been downloaded to individual computers.

During a recent demonstration of the technology, authorities were able to zero in on suspects who are actively downloading material in their local jurisdictions at any time of day or night.

image courtesy of USA Today

image courtesy of USA Today

One recent afternoon, the locations of possible suspects were depicted by icons blinking like warning lights across a large computer screen, from Scranton, Pa., to Los Angeles.

In Pennsylvania, for example, the online activity linked to the suspected transmission of child pornography and/or solicitations for sexual encounters involved more than 2,000 individuals.

And of the 114 arrests of porn distribution suspects in Pennsylvania last year by state authorities, the technology aided in the identification of about 80% of them, officials said.

“It is one of the most effective tools available to law enforcement,” Russ says.

This is a significantly shortened excerpt. To read the full article, please visit the USA Today website http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/02/19/child-pornography-dark-web/5184485/


Kevin Johnson, who joined USA Today in 1994, covers national law enforcement issues and the Justice Department.