New techniques are emerging to help forensic analysts build cases against Internet child pornographers.
Some crimes, like the rape and torture of infants and toddlers, are so unspeakable the reaction of most people is to turn away and hope the problem vanishes.
Forensic analysts, however, must face this dark reality in the pursuit of prosecutions. The scope of the problem is immense.
The Internet enables instant access to child pornography. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) reports it has reviewed 23 million child pornography images and videos—8.6 million just in 2008.
As the problem spreads, the victims seem to get younger and younger. According to the 2008 InternetWatch Foundation (IWF) Annual Report, 69% of child victims are under ten years old, and 24% are six years old or younger. Some are babies.
Both IWF and NCMEC are active in helping forensic scientists build cases against those who produce, distribute, and consume child pornography. Two new software tools, one developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the other in Sweden, appeared this summer to help them and others involved in this pursuit. Both packages are designed to automate some of the grim forensic tasks of fighting child pornography.
The Swedish system, called NetClean Analyze, is an investigative tool for individual law enforcement agencies working with images and videos of child sexual abuse.
Developed for the Swedish National Police, NetClean Analyze uses unique image recognition techniques to speed up the process of analyzing and classifying images and videos. The system, which is currently in use throughout the European law enforcement community, can rapidly catalog the hundreds of thousands of images and videos that are typically found during an investigation of computers confiscated from suspected child pornography traffickers.
Before NetClean Analyze, forensic examiners had to manually view and catalog each image or video, which significantly slowed down the forensic process.
NetClean Analyze focuses on three key issues. It minimizes the time investigators have to spend looking at old or duplicate images and videos, it eases collaboration between police units, and it enables more efficient reporting with an engine that allows easy creation of either customized or standardized reports.