Borders Conference - Rethinking the Line: The Canada-U.S. Border / Child Pornography on the Internet Session
Speaking at the end of a series of presentations is always an invidious position because all the things you are going to say have already been said, and you're left wondering what on earth to say. Particularly after the people that we've heard today who are very experienced and work in this area. Each of their presentations was packed with important and very significant issues.
What I would like to do first is present something about me and the work that we do (within the COPINE project), because it's unusual the work that we do. Our set up is rather unique.
First, to give you some sense of the nature of COPINE project. We are involved in the assessment of dangerousness and we're interested in adult sexual interest in children as it is manifested on the Internet and the implications of it. We are also interested in child trafficking and child sex tourism. Our particular interest, and this is really what makes our work kind of peculiar, is that we're very interested in the pictures. We are very interested in child pornography pictures because we believe they are the starting point for anything. Because of the nature of Irish law, we are allowed to be in possession of child pornography. We maintain a very extensive database of child pornography pictures. We work very, very closely with law enforcement. We are regularly used as a resource by European law enforcement agencies and sometimes the National Centre and other American agencies for advice particularly on the identification of new child pornography pictures and for the identification of new children. That, I have to say, is incidental to our business. The database was set up as a research tool and it is maintained because it is a research tool. It just so happens that it also has practical value, but it was never set up for that purpose, and we don't maintain it for that purpose. However, it is gratifying that we can help in investigations and be able to sometimes initiate investigations because we can identify material, and we have done that on a number of occasions.
I would like to talk a little bit about the database. The database exists in two forms. First there's an archive of older material, which is indexed and searchable, but it's not greatly mulled over. By “older material” we mean older than 15 years; by “new material” we mean things up to 10 years; and by “recent” we mean somewhere between 10 and 15 years. Why these figures? Well, because it sometimes takes that long for pictures to emerge. However, I get the impression that the length between production and distribution on the Internet has been shortening. Nonetheless, in many cases pictures can circulate privately between individuals and they don't ever get out until later on and then they do emerge. The second form the database takes is a searchable archive of new and recent material. About 3 or 4 years ago Swedish police developed a searchable archive based on software recognition. However, our database works on text-based descriptors. We use the FBI text descriptors. We did this for a number of reasons. First of all, we didn't have the money to invest in the software anyway, but I also feel very sceptical about the value of face recognition software now, and did even more then. We did actually commission a computer specialist to look at software recognition programs for us. The outcome of that was quite limited. The Excalibur database that the Swedish police use certainly works very effectively, but it is not 100% reliable, it's nowhere near that. We do our work by visual inspection. So it's very labour intensive, it's tedious, and it's not very pleasant because you have to look at everything, but we find it works.
The database is made entirely of material that is posted and lifted from newsgroups. We regularly monitor postings to 60 newsgroups and download postings automatically. We also receive material from law enforcement agencies.
To categorize the child pornography, we have a system that we've developed which relates to scale of victimization. We focus on levels 6 to 10. Levels 6 to 10 are basically pictures involving sexual assaults. Child pornography at its worst is a picture of a commission of a crime, a picture of the scene of a crime. I think that we have to remember that it is a picture of a very serious sexual assault. It's not some pretty picture, it's not somebody's fantasy, it's some real child being abused and photographed.
Our database underestimates the more mature children of twelve and older because we use anthropometric measures to identify and describe facial and bodily characteristics. It is very difficult once you get past puberty to be accurate about ages. So our database fizzles out at that age, and we have very little in that area.
We focus on new photographs and we have very extensive knowledge now of what is new. We probably now have in the database a very large and probably representative sample of the available material. How do I know that? I really don't, but I do know that there is quite a lot of it. The database has extensive records of pictures, probably nearly all the material that's being posted to the newsgroups that we've monitored over the past 3 years. We also have records of nicknames and posting IP addresses.
Here's a sample of what one of the records in the database looks like (see Appendix III). It describes qualities of the picture and so forth, and one of the topics is details, for example, description of environment. This picture is obviously not a picture of child pornography, but I do believe that this child is a child at risk, because that picture came from a child pornography newsgroup. We have obtained this picture, not because it is illegal, but because our gut feeling is that an illegal picture of this child may appear later on. We've been right on a number of occasions about this as well. You have to ask yourself, “Why are 20 or 30 pictures of this child posted to a child-sex newsgroup?”
The database consists of approximately 60,000 still pictures and 400 plus video clips ranging from a few seconds to our longest, which is about 20 minutes. The video clips are not very manageable. They are too big. They are not really a big area of trade at the moment. However, as compression technology improves the video clips will become more and more important and we'll see many more of them. For the moment though, the overwhelming amount of material is still pictures. Of the 60,000 still pictures that we have, about 43,000 are of girls and about 18,000 are of boys. About 7% of the very obscene girl photographs are new, and about 26% of the very obscene boy photographs are new. I think that represents our experience. There is much more new boy material coming out than new girl material.
This slide of the age range gives you a sense of what the new/recent photographs look like by age. As you can see, 7% of the girl photographs fall in the 13-15 year old age category and 0% fall within the 15 to 17-year-old age range. Now that, of course, is absolute nonsense. There is, of course, thousands and thousands of pictures in these age groups, we just don't monitor them because we can't be sure about the age of the children in this range. So we stop around 12 years old or so. With boys we can be more accurate because puberty in boys is delayed somewhat. The predominant age group would be 9 or 12. But the really worrying thing about the numbers is that 10% of the images are of babies and toddlers.
|Age of children||Percentage of girls in still images||Percentage of boys in still images|
The race of the children in these photos is predominantly white. What always surprises me is that there are very few black children, almost none. But what we know about sexual abuse of black children is that it occurs more or less as frequently as it does for white children, but black kids just don't get photographed, or at least they don't appear on the Internet anyway.
The age distribution of children in the video clips looks pretty much the same as the photographs. The predominant age group is between 9 and 12.
We are downloading approximately 2 new individual children a month on average. That is to say that approximately 2 new children a month are appearing in the newsgroups. However, the appearance of new pictures is very irregular. Some months there's nothing, sometimes we just get a flood of them. People often ask me how much child pornography is there in existence? I think that this is a nonsense thing to ask. The origins of a lot of the material are videos. A lot of what we are seeing in the main are video captures of the new stuff. From a 30-minute video you can take 1 to 5,000 video captures. Therefore, it just doesn't make sense to talk about the amount of the material, but it does make sense to talk about and focus on the number of children. Our impression is that the ages, especially among girls, are getting younger and younger. They are invariably, not exclusively, but nearly always very domestic in quality. The pictures are taken in houses, in bedrooms, and in children's bedrooms. What is very alarming is the growth in the number of east European children who have been appearing in the last few years.
We reckon that in our new database there's somewhere between 300 and 350 children that would be included in the new/recent category. So for pictures created in the last 10 years we have visual records of 300 to 350 children being very seriously sexually assaulted. There are about 220 boys and about 130 girls. It's not always easy to tell the people in the pictures apart. You can have the same child with multiple pictures of them. However, you can never be certain that the pictures are of the same person because of distortions from picture to picture. Of the girls we have in our database we know the identity of about 12 of them because they have been solved. Of the boys we know the identities of somewhere between 2 and 12. I say somewhere between because there's been a recent case of seizure in Italy of pictures of boys from Russia and that will affect these numbers.
In addition to that we have somewhere between 1,600 and 1,800 pictures of children who were photographed while they were naked. These are not sexual pictures in the sense that there's an adult in the picture doing something to the child, but these are posed pictures. In many jurisdictions these kinds of pictures will be illegal, but not in all. It is a reasonable assumption that many of these children are also sexually abused. Either you've not seen the pictures of them or there weren't pictures taken. So what I've shown you there, I think, is a massive underestimate of the number of children involved, but this is the material that we have.
I think it's important to stress that our impression is that the Internet is, at the moment, primarily a medium of distribution, not a medium of production. I think video remains the primary production medium. The Internet reflects this through video captures. The kg (kindergarten) series is an example of that. The kg series consists of pictures of about 30 little girls between 18 months and 6 years old. There's somewhere between 3,000 to 4,000 pictures of them around on the Internet. They've been around for a number of years, but new pictures are being added to the series. There was a recent burst of new pictures about a month ago, which were very, very obscene pictures of one of the little girls in this series. This is a major example, it seems to me, of serial child pornography production where a lot of little girls are being subjected to very serious sexual assaults.
Child pornography is very easy to find on the Internet, although you are unlikely to stumble across it. We look in the newsgroups and we used to look in IRC. IRC is open to the public, but there are private password protected channels. On IRC you've also got secret/invisible password protected channels. You've also got server channels on IRC, which still exist and 'Wonderland' was one of them.
Bulletin boards (BBSs) are very important, particularly the web-based BBSs and specifically the FGB board ('The Professor's Board'). They are important because they give the location of websites to find child pornography, but even more important than that they are a medium of communication between people. The issue about the Internet and child pornography is not just that there are pictures on the Internet and that these pictures are obscene; the issue is that the Internet entwines with adult sexual interest in children, and generates, sustains, and develops that interest. Talking to people is as important in this world, in the development of adult sexual interest in children, as the pictures are themselves. Web pages are also a source of the material. I still believe that what we're looking at in child pornography is a massive international conspiracy. But unlike most conspiracies, it's not driven predominantly by money. Money is made out of it from time to time, but it's not characterized by money. Why pay, when you can download so much for free off the newsgroups? We're downloading somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 pictures a week, of which about a 1,000 are child pornography. It's mainly all older material. By older material I mean material such as scans from the old Lolita magazines and stuff that was produced when production and possession of child pornography was legal in a number of European countries about 30 to 40 years ago. It's the new stuff that's important however, because it represents a current child protection problem.
I would just like to make one or two other points. I just wanted to go through that stuff because I think it's important just to see what the scale of the problem is, and that's the reality of it. We always say that there's a lot of material, well this shows you an overview of the sample that we have. Although it's not exhaustive it's reasonably representative on our record.
What are the priorities? What comments can we make about the presentations today? I think the first comment that has to be made is that investigations must have a child-centred focus. You've heard from the police presentations that they do that and they quite clearly regard new pictures as being a priority. But what follows from that, is that if you go to investigate these cases you're going to have to devote enormous resources to them because it just doesn't come easy.
We were involved in one investigation surrounding a series of pictures called “Lucy” and that investigation took about a year to complete. The pictures were taken by the girl's father and he received about 12 years for it just this year. The pictures had emerged on the Internet about a year before. The pictures were traded on IRC not long before they emerged in the newsgroups. So this was lucky because this stuff emerged and was caught quite quickly. They took a year to track the offender down. He was located in the south of England and there was evidence in the pictures that confirmed that location and confirmed their recency as well. But actually getting him involved a major investigation. What's interesting is that the information that lead to his apprehension came from U.S. Customs who were monitoring IRC. So there's an interesting example of the border issue. Here we had a child being abused in England, her father was trading the pictures in America, the IP address was identified, it was transmitted to the U.K., and he was caught. However, he was caught by luck. First of all, he was caught because someone was monitoring what was going on. Secondly, he was caught because the ISP, when approached for the IP address, by chance had retained it for something like 8 months. They didn't have the month before or the month after, but they did have the information for that date. It was total chance that they got him. That just reinforces the business about the role of ISPs – the significance of the retention of information. Terry Jones from Greater Manchester Police, who pursued that investigation in the face of considerable adversity, deserves enormous credit. And that raises another problem: Who “owns” these investigations? From the evidence in the pictures we knew that the girl in the material was English, but we had no idea where she was. So which English police force would own the investigation in this case? Greater Manchester Police took up the case against considerable aggravation from the Chief Constable who wanted to know why they were spending money on something they didn't know was a problem in Greater Manchester. They were lucky again, because it worked out the man was caught. But if he hadn't been caught they would then have to account for the years of very hard work without ever doing anything for Manchester, or maybe not doing anything for anybody. So these investigations are hugely resource intensive and that must be recognized.
So the child focus is important and all the speakers have recognized that. Retention of logs is vitally important. I would certainly say that the ISPs should hold the logs longer than 3 months, but whatever is practical because of the cost-benefit aspect of it must be worked out.
Coordination and cooperation between police forces is absolutely vital. Interpol provides that forum to some extent. Interpol is itself constructing a database of child pornography. We have supplied them with all our new material and the Swedish police have supplied them with all their new material. I know that the Interpol database will be functional, but the problem will be maintaining it. If it is not maintained it will be useless. It will require somebody working on it all the time. We have 3 people running our database. They do other things as well, but they spend hours upon hours just sorting through the pictures. It's very labour intensive and very unpleasant work for the students we have working on it. Here again it's an issue of resources.
There are major training implications in all of this. Not just training for law enforcement, but for all the agencies that are involved such as probation, social workers, prosecutors, et cetera. Lots of people need to be trained and made aware of what the problems are. We are currently involved in the process of interviewing a lot of offenders. One of the things we're continually coming across is the inadequacy of the social welfare system and the probation service to deal with the offenders and their problems. Those working in the system need help because they don't understand how the Internet works. They don't understand what the problems are. They don't even know, when interviewing an offender, what the right questions are. They are reluctant to get involved because they are worried that the offender is going to know more than what they do. They are worried that they will look bad and not even make the right comments. Training for parents is important as well. Because the bottom-line to this is that parents need to be aware of the risks that their children face. They need to be aware of the potential of the Internet. When your husband is sitting there 3 to 6 hours a night playing on the Internet, what is he doing? Children need to be made alert to the dangers they might face looking on the Internet. So there's an issue of parental regulation, but the bigger issue is self-regulation by the ISPs.
All of this could be controlled if the ISP industry wanted to. It only happens because it's allowed to happen. If somebody decided that it wasn't going to happen then it wouldn't happen because you could control it in better ways than how it's being done now - the technology is there to be able to do that. So the issue does come back to the ISP industry, which enables and allows it to happen. And that is really something that we all have to address not just in Canada and the United States.
There are all sorts of other issues, I could go on endlessly, but I'm going to stop now. There are issues having to with age and there are all sorts of other complicated issues. There is all sorts of work on the relationship between adult sexual interest in children and the Internet, and the way that the Internet sustains this interest. Related to this is the issue of the development of dangerousness and the identification of dangerousness amongst offenders. It's important to realize that not all sexual offenders against children collect child pornography, and not all collectors of child pornography assault children. Knowing and understanding where the boundaries are, and understanding the dangerousness of individuals is a major challenge. Recognizing the guy whose been caught in possession of child pornography might well be a liability in going farther. Distinguishing this person from somebody who isn't going to do that or is unlikely to do that, for whom the boundaries are reasonably well established, is a big problem in the management of offenders. However, we don't have the time to discuss this now.
I would like to say thank you for having me here. I've enjoyed being here to make this presentation to you. I've also enjoyed hearing the presentation made by the other panellists. Thank you for your attention.
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