Child pornography is illegal, and federal criminal laws relating to it are among the harshest in the country. Penalties include mandatory prison terms and the requirement to register as a sex offender, which will impact virtually every aspect of a person’s life.
However, the fact that someone accidentally clicked a spam link and downloaded child pornography does not mean they will be prosecuted. Here are some ways law enforcement finds child pornography.
A number of sites allow users to access illegal images of child abuse by hiding them behind legal-looking adult pornography, according to the UK-based Internet Watch Foundation. The organization’s report found 743 such sites displaying only legal content but hosting illegal material out of sight on a network of hidden links. This is a significant increase over the figure of 454 such sites reported 18 months earlier.
People may encounter child pornography in unexpected ways, such as clicking on spam links, phishing emails or dodgy pop-ups that appear to be part of harmless websites like free games for children. It’s also possible to accidentally download or view child pornography on file sharing sites, where the images are shared by “peers” instead of from a single source. These files are often stored on computers, and even deleting them doesn’t erase the evidence that they were viewed or downloaded.
Law enforcement has struggled to keep up with the Internet’s ability to conceal and hide illegal images of child sexual abuse. As a result, authorities can be reluctant to shut down websites, fearing that pedophiles will find other routes around blocked pages. The FBI’s Innocent Images International Task Force has trained officers in 43 countries to identify and track pedophiles on the Internet, but more resources are needed.
Some sites use the Tor anonymizing network to protect their owners from the FBI’s search capabilities, making it hard for agents to locate and arrest offenders. However, an appeals court ruled this week that the government had probable cause to search Derek Tagg’s home for child pornography after his use of the Playpen site indicated his intent to view such material.
But experts say that preventing young people from viewing pornography will require education, responsible parenting and more resources for enforcement. For example, one website advertised pictures of child exploitation in Chinese to potential buyers in China and other countries. Undercover FBI agents, with the help of a Chinese language specialist, paid membership fees to gain access and discovered that the site sold thousands of such pictures.
The cache folders on computers store files that have been viewed on the device. They are used to speed up the display of Web pages and almost all electronic devices have them. These folders can contain all kinds of images, including child pornography. It is illegal to possess or share child pornography. If you suspect that someone has accessed child pornography on their computer, it is important to preserve all the evidence on that device. This includes preserving user log in dates, preserving server logs and preserving Internet cache. IT professionals also should make sure that nothing is done to destroy or taint this evidence.
A common response to discovering child pornography is disgust. This may motivate employees to destroy the offending material. However, destroying or trying to destroy child pornography is a crime in some states and federal jurisdictions. Even if the offending material is deleted, it can still be found through hash values, which are unique to each file. By comparing hash values to those on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s database, law enforcement can identify whether the offending material was downloaded to the device in question.
Pedophiles are known to tap viruses to turn a victim’s computer into a warehouse for child porn pictures and videos. Pranksters can also use viruses to prank innocent victims by hijacking their home page and rerouting it to a site that displays child porn.
While prosecutors often find child pornography on computers, they have trouble proving it was obtained by the defendant. For example, a New York court case found that merely viewing child pornography on a computer does not constitute possession or procurement of the images. A forensic examiner found that the computer in question had been infected with a virus that redirected users to porn sites after a period of time.
While this defense has not been successful in defending real pedophiles, it has allowed many people who have accidentally downloaded pornography to avoid a criminal conviction. If a person can prove that all the files in a cache are legal and the ratio of legal to illegal is much greater, they can argue that the images were downloaded by mistake.
Emails may be an excellent way to send child pornography, but they can also be a great way for law enforcement to track its distribution. For example, an internet service provider (ISP) can receive tips about people distributing child pornography via their email servers and alert authorities to that information. This is why it’s important for those who distribute child pornography to use an email encryption program.
Another method for tracking the distribution of child pornography is to use tracking software such as PhotoDNA, which assigns a digital signature to each image. This digital fingerprint can then be compared against a database of known images of sexual abuse. If a match is found, the ISP will be able to identify the user who viewed or downloaded the image.
A new type of child pornography-related scam is targeting unsuspecting victims through emails. The emails, which are labeled as “Microsoft Support,” claim to have detected suspicious activity on a victim’s computer and ask them to call a fake tech support number to resolve the issue. In some cases, the scammers will ask the victim to allow them direct access to their computer.
Google has been a pioneer in using automated tools to detect child pornography, scanning the image attachments of its 400 million Gmail users to see if they are tagged with known child pornography. The company argues that the public good in eradicating illegal images takes priority over violating the privacy of its users.
While some might view this as a great step in the fight against child pornography, others might see it as Big Brother surveillance. John Hawes of the cyber security firm Virus Bulletin tells AFP that some people might see this as a slippery slope, and that it’s “not unreasonable to think we’ll eventually live in a world where the government uses its twin Big Brothers of state agencies and tech behemoths to delve into our private lives.”
If you find yourself on the wrong end of a child porn charge and were found with child pornography in your inbox, you should contact a lawyer right away. Your attorney will review your case and advise you on the best course of action.
When people talk about child pornography, they usually think of the dark corners of the internet: Omegle, the dark web, Usenet, end-to-end encrypted chat apps, etc. However, it’s not just these sites that pose a threat. The biggest social media platforms also have a problem with child sexual abuse images. These sites remove thousands of posts and images containing child abuse, exploitation, nudity, or other violations each day. The platforms are also used by pedophiles to groom victims and share images of their abuse, and they often use coded communications and end-to-end encryption to hide their activities.
Many people don’t realize that searching for child pornography is illegal, but the fact is, it is. Similarly, typing “child pornography lawyers” or “child pornography videos” in the search bar is illegal, even if it’s not intentional. Fortunately, state and federal laws allow for a Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer to provide a robust defense against these types of charges.
While the demand for digital child pornography remains high, it is increasingly difficult for law enforcement agencies to keep up with the growth. Many tech companies have not staffed adequately or cooperated fully with authorities to police the content on their websites. And while the Justice Department has been tasked with overseeing online child pornography, it is not keeping pace with the demands of this massive task.
Abusers are increasingly adept at using social media to share files and find like-minded communities. They use coded communications, end-to-end encryption, and live streaming to hide their activity. And they’re targeting younger victims – infants and toddlers. For example, a military veteran in Denver was arrested for posting child pornography images on a forum for Incels (involuntarily celibate men). FBI photos from the raid show that the man’s bedroom was lined with keyboards and computers, and his parents knew nothing about their son’s obsession.
If you’re concerned about your kids’ online safety, consider installing parental control software on their devices. Some services offer coverage for all of a family’s gaming consoles, cell phones, tablets, and personal laptops. Others are more limited, covering just one or two of these devices.