FBI initiative helps fight Net child pornography

FBI initiative helps fight Net child pornography

As modems and processors become faster and cheaper, the possibility for abuse increases, FBI Director Louis Freeh says.

Bureau opens 1,497 new Innocent Images investigations, as technologically sophisticated crime rises

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

The FBI has dedicated $10 million annually for the past five years to battle online child pornography through its Innocent Images National Initiative, and the fight may be heating up further.

During fiscal 1999, the bureau opened 1,497 new Innocent Images investigations, issuing 188 search warrants, conducting 57 consent searches, making 193 arrests and obtaining 125 indictments.

The prevalence of the technologically sophisticated crime is increasing as access to digital film equipment, PCs and the Internet spreads, officials said.

An offender can use a computer to transfer, manipulate or create child pornography. Culprits can store images, transfer them from videotape or print media, and transmit images via the Internet using encryption to deter detection, said Mark Pollitt, FBI headquarters unit chief of the Computer Analysis and Response Team (CART).

Predator zone

As modems and processors become faster and cheaper, the potential for abuse grows, FBI Director Louis Freeh testified at a recent Senate Appropriations Committee hearing.

'[The Internet] has become a zone where predators prey on the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society, our children,' Freeh testified.

'The sex offender using a computer is not a new type of criminal,' he said. 'Rather, it is simply a case of modern technology being combined with an age-old problem.'

The FBI launched IINI in 1995 after a series of investigations revealed computer telecommunications was rapidly becoming a popular tool for child pornographers, according to the FBI. Investigations require collection and analysis of vast amounts of digital evidence, the FBI said.

Special agents engage individuals in chat rooms and infiltrate bulletin boards to pursue those who use the Internet to sexually exploit children or distribute child pornography.

Digital evidence captured from the Internet is stored in an electronic repository and document management system from R.M. Vredenburg Co. of Reston, Va.

A suite of products from Vredenburg and its subsidiary, Highland Technologies Inc. of Lanham, Md., lets the FBI capture, index, store, analyze and retrieve text, images, and audio and video formats through an intranet interface connected with TCP/IP, said Larry Den, Vredenburg's vice president of information technology.

The system has an interface to an Oracle8 database on a server in a physically closed network, Den said. End users access it via PCs running Microsoft Windows NT.

Then CART helps examine the digital evidence. The 142-member computer forensics team stationed at FBI headquarters and field offices serves the same function as coroners in murder investigations, Freeh said.

CART examiners provide on-site field support where computers and storage media are required as evidence; extract information from computers seized at crime scenes; offer technical advice to field agents; and help develop technical capabilities to produce timely and accurate forensic information to solve cases, Freeh said.

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