PHOSPHOR PEDOPHILES (The New Evil of the Electronic Age)

The Globe & Mail — Tech­no­logy
Novem­ber 1999 — 2080 words

“Do you want to see some pic­tures? Some fun and naughty ones?”. Before Patty73 could reply, anoth­er line appeared; “Erin19 is a 19/f look­ing for some cute young girls to trade self-nudes and more…Msg Me”. Then anoth­er ” GOTO http://pornsex011alpha.com for 100% free porn, no age check”

Line after line of cryptic text sim­il­ar to what you’d find in the per­son­al sec­tion of a taw­dry tabloid appeared on Patty73’s screen. Scrolling upward on the mon­it­or, multi-line advert­ise­ments for porn Web­sites, FTP serv­ers, and Fservs were con­stantly appear­ing, and being replaced by yet anoth­er appeal; “The first 100% FREE PORN SITE with nev­er before seen Pamela Ander­son pics!…Sex stor­ies, Live video stream, 100% free!…All you would ever need to get off!!…NO cred­it card checks and/or age veri­fic­a­tions…”

In a quiet room in down­town Edmon­ton, Patty73 stares at the con­sole; face bathed in the soft glow from the screen and not really sur­prised by the pas­sion­ate mes­sages from people who spe­cial­ize in col­lect­ing and dis­trib­ut­ing child por­no­graphy.

That’s because Patty73 is a cop. Every day, someone like Detect­ive Dave John­ston goes to work on the Inter­net, a far cry from the naïve petite young girl he deftly cre­ates while on the prowl.

Like the people he’s pur­su­ing, Det. John­ston is also very pas­sion­ate about child por­no­graphy. In this case, the Edmon­ton Police Detective’s pas­sion is dir­ec­ted towards col­lect­ing and pro­sec­ut­ing pedo­philes-stalk­ers that make the Inter­net an unsafe place for chil­dren. “It is a trend right now,” he says. “Child Por­no­graphy used to be dif­fi­cult to get your hands on.“Now the chal­lenge for Det. John­ston and his part­ner, Detect­ive George Sidor, is to gath­er evid­ence and charge crim­in­als using the Inter­net to prey on chil­dren. “There are pedo­phile-stalk­ers stalk­ing kids here in Edmon­ton,” Det. John­ston cau­tioned when describ­ing this glob­al prob­lem.

Util­iz­ing online under­cov­er tech­niques, a ‘vir­tu­al stakeout’ is usu­ally set up in one of the hun­dreds of child por­no­graphy chat rooms lit­ter­ing the Inter­net. These are the pop­u­lar hangouts for the kind of people who trade in these illeg­al images. These are also the places where unsus­pect­ing chil­dren can quickly get into trouble.

Det. Sidor explains one suc­cess­ful tech­nique used to attract stalk­er-pedo­philes. “You make them believe you’re prob­ably 13–14, try­ing to act 18. Depend­ing what you’re look­ing for, stalk­ers or pedo­philes, you’d go as a little girl or little boy.” The detect­ives begin to act out an online role that usu­ally involves many even­ings of work, gain­ing the con­fid­ence of their sus­pect.

Det. John­ston was involved in one online con­ver­sa­tion with a per­son who had a taste for the bizarre. “He wanted to have sex with kids. And dogs. And kids and dogs. Males and females¦he wasn’t fussy shall we say,” he explains. “You just talk to him for 10 minutes and your skin just crawls. A really odd, odd indi­vidu­al.”

It was uncom­fort­able, you have to get inside their head,” Det. John­ston adds. The sus­pect was later arres­ted, and pled guilty to pos­ses­sion of child por­no­graphy.

Online con­ver­sa­tions between pedo­philes often include the swap­ping of child por­no­graphy. In fact, there is a whole cul­ture with tech­no­logy designed to sup­port these trans­ac­tions.

Using pro­grams such as ICQ, Hot­Line, Net­Meet­ing and mIRC, pedo­philes routinely scour each other’s pub­licly access­ible com­puter sys­tems, look­ing for rare and pre­vi­ously unseen images of adults hav­ing sex with chil­dren.

Occa­sion­ally an indi­vidu­al will take mat­ters into their own hands and cre­ate new images to feed this insa­ti­able appet­ite.

They haunt the same IRC Chan­nels that chil­dren often vis­it, gath­er­ing inform­a­tion and mas­quer­ad­ing as kids them­selves, hunt­ing for a tar­get.

Then some even­ing, by log­ging into the wrong IRC chan­nel and chat­ting with an online ‘friend’, a child could begin a pro­cess that may end in kid­nap­ping and rape.

These people will abduct a child and have live sex on the Inter­net” Det. John­ston said. “It’s like a call-in show; what do you want me to do next”.

There’s noth­ing so dis­gust­ing you can think of that there aren’t ten thou­sand people on the Inter­net tak­ing a real charge out of it.” Det. Sidor is adam­ant though, “We do not send, under any cir­cum­stances, child por­no­graphy to any­body”.

Occa­sion­ally, the duty takes it’s toll, as both detect­ives have chil­dren. “You go through 15 thou­sand of those images, it’s wear­ing, and there’s no doubt about it,” Det. John­ston admits. “We have an open door policy with our psy­cho­lo­gist that’s on staff here. They make time for you when you’re feel­ing a little depressed.” “It’s some­times dif­fi­cult”, Det. Sidor adds, “espe­cially if it’s an invest­ig­a­tion that has involved us to go under­cov­er for a while.”

Those same under­cov­er oper­a­tions can return the biggest suc­cesses. “We had one where the week before we arres­ted this indi­vidu­al he’d actu­ally made a trip out of town with the spe­cif­ic pur­pose of hav­ing sex with a kid,” Det. John­ston says. “It fell through because the per­son who was going to sup­ply the child nev­er showed up.” “This was an act­ive pedo­phile stalk­er just about ready to go act­ively look­ing for kids. And it was very good to get him off the street.”

Accord­ing to the detect­ives, pedo­phile stalk­ers are mobile and will hap­pily send money or travel tick­ets to their tar­gets. A recent example south of the bor­der is the high-pro­file arrest of a Disney/InfoSeek exec­ut­ive.

Over a sev­en-month peri­od, the FBI gathered evid­ence in online chat rooms and through e-mail cor­res­pond­ences with the accused.

They made the arrest Septem­ber 16th, when the accused allegedly crossed states lines to meet and have sex with a teen­age girl, who was an under­cov­er agent.

Then there’s the case was the wake-up call for the Edmon­ton Police Ser­vice. Back in August of 1996, a civil­ian employ­ee of the Ser­vice was charged with child por­no­graphy related crimes.

The tri­al res­ul­ted in a suc­cess­ful pro­sec­u­tion and guilty ver­dict. The accused was sen­tenced to 60 days in pris­on, and the case set a pre­ced­ent. “We had the first [online child por­no­graphy] case ever in Canada to go to court,” Det. John­ston says.

Iron­ic­ally, since that vic­tory, it’s been an uphill battle. Com­puter pro­grams that allow the trans­mis­sion of images are much easi­er to use. Online encryp­tion adds anoth­er lay­er of com­plex­ity to the task of track­ing pedo­philes. And there are more people online now than ever before.

It is a trend right now,” Det. John­ston explains. “Madam Justice Smith, in one of the rul­ings in her cases ruled that actu­ally child por­no­graphy in elec­tron­ic form is more insi­di­ous. It’s easi­er to hide, easi­er to share, and easi­er to dis­trib­ute.” He adds, “It’s not vic­tim­less crime, even if its just pic­tures being taken, you have to keep in mind those pic­tures will be on the Inter­net for 200 years, so the evid­ence of the crime is always there.”

Though it seems as if this prob­lem has no solu­tion, police forces are join­ing forces at all levels to com­bat the grow­ing prob­lem.

Muni­cip­al, pro­vin­cial, nation­al, and inter­na­tion­al agen­cies are all shar­ing their skill and know­ledge to gain suc­cess­ful pro­sec­u­tions in their respect­ive jur­is­dic­tion. Det’s. John­ston and Sidor both teach courses related to online child por­no­graphy at the Cana­dian Police Col­lege in Ott­awa.

Still, it’s a drop in the buck­et. Across Canada, there are at most a hun­dred officers act­ively involved in online child por­no­graphy invest­ig­a­tions. Many of these same officers also invest­ig­ate oth­er crimes where a com­puter may be part of the evid­ence, such as fraud, coun­ter­feit­ing, and hack­ing.

Unfor­tu­nately, one of the biggest battles faced by the officers on the front lines often comes from their own admin­is­trat­ive struc­ture. Mem­bers from vari­ous police depart­ments have expressed frus­tra­tion at the lack of vis­ion and sup­port.

This can be par­tially attrib­uted to the fact that com­puter tech­no­logy changes at an incred­ible rate, and some depart­ments are unwill­ing to con­tinu­ally fund budgets for the latest train­ing, or the latest hard­ware and soft­ware upgrades.

In some cases, com­puter crime invest­ig­at­ors are man­aging by upgrad­ing their hard­ware with for­feited com­puter equip­ment seized from suc­cess­fully pro­sec­uted crim­in­al cases. Occa­sion­ally the invest­ig­at­ors pay for their own train­ing, learn­ing what they can on their own.

This means that some of the invest­ig­at­ors can be two to three gen­er­a­tions behind the crim­in­als, with their tech­niques, tac­tics, and tech­no­logy. This is import­ant when any com­puter sys­tem is seized.

As part of the evid­ence gath­er­ing pro­cess, invest­ig­at­ors routinely copy the hard drive, byte-by-byte, mak­ing an exact data duplic­ate, pro­tect­ing the integ­rity of the ori­gin­al. This duplic­ate is what they use to extract evid­ence neces­sary to make the case.

When the seized sys­tem has a new twenty-sev­en Giga­byte hard drive, the invest­ig­at­ors would have to buy one as well, or copy the data to many smal­ler drives, a time con­sum­ing pro­cess.

One police ser­vice we talked to had a back­log of 30 cases, with three or more hard drives to exam­ine for each case.

On the oth­er hand, some police depart­ments, includ­ing Edmon­ton, Hal­i­fax, and the RCMP nation­al tech crime unit have been quite sup­port­ive by ensur­ing the officers get the best resources and train­ing they need.

It’s that train­ing that often enables a pro­sec­utor to win the case. “What Dave and I have to do is be that liais­on between the Geeks and the Non-Geeks,” said Det. Sidor. “We made up a list of some of the more com­mon jar­gon, and handed it out to the defense, the Judge and pro­sec­u­tion. I did it as a lark in one of the tri­als and it’s our stand­ard now,” adds Det. John­ston.

Pro­sec­ut­ing these crimes can be an expens­ive under­tak­ing. Last year, Det’s. John­ston and Sidor logged over 150 tech­no­logy related com­plaints. That doesn’t seem like a lot, until you real­ize that these two officers are respons­ible for each invest­ig­a­tion, and that tech­no­logy related invest­ig­a­tions often take months to con­clude.

Keep­ing care­ful notes of everything done at the scene is very import­ant, says Det. John­ston. “Describ­ing the com­puter, look­ing through the com­puter, check­ing for unusu­al con­fig­ur­a­tions…” is all part of the daily routine.

And some days are far from routine. “We’ve also done com­puter seizures where you’re look­ing for extra wires com­ing out of the com­puter as well,” notes Det. John­ston. The bombs the bad guys can place aren’t neces­sar­ily data des­troy­ing logic-bombs, they could be real and phys­ic­ally dan­ger­ous. “It’s a big dif­fer­ence between seiz­ing the com­puter at a 14 year old kids house, and maybe seiz­ing a com­puter at a biker’s loc­a­tion.”

Not all of the Detective’s work is per­formed in a react­ive role though. In the Edmon­ton Police Ser­vice, com­munity poli­cing begins with com­munity involve­ment.

In this case, that means tak­ing a pro­act­ive approach, talk­ing with teach­ers, young chil­dren, teens, and par­ents about the dangers lurk­ing on the Inter­net and how best to com­bat them. Iron­ic­ally, often the best Inter­net safety resources are found on the Inter­net itself.

We tell schools that if they’re going to have a web page up, don’t put any children’s pic­tures on Web pages,” Det. John­ston says, “that’s just a lead.” Det. Sidor adds, “All it takes is a per­son to look up a young girl [on the school web­site], and he’s got a face and a name and the stalk­ing can start. It’s dangerous…very dan­ger­ous.”

At their present­a­tions, the detect­ives also men­tion that the respons­ib­il­ity for keep­ing young com­puter users safe resides in the home. They feel that if more par­ents were involved in their children’s online activ­it­ies, both par­ents and chil­dren would have a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the risks involved.

Most audi­ences appear to appre­ci­ate the dangers; more so after they’ve seen some of the images the detect­ives bring to the present­a­tions.

We’ve got one image that we show as part of our present­a­tion” Det. John­ston says. “It’s a really scary image, the child is fully clothed. It’s just the child sit­ting at a table look­ing up at some­body tak­ing pic­tures, you know what has happened in the past, just a look of ter­ror and lost soul in the eyes, it’s really hard to look at the image.” He adds, “by the time we get to our last slide, even the grade 11, grade 12, cool indi­vidu­al is pay­ing atten­tion.”

Some would think using such shock tac­tics a bit unfair, but since the two detect­ives con­sider this their most import­ant role, it may be jus­ti­fied. Det. Sidor sums up their work in the vir­tu­al world with its poten­tial impact on the real world. “If we pre­vent one kid from being abduc­ted I think we’ve done our job.”

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