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Interpol: Turns to technology to fight child pornography

Publish Date: 21 Sep 2005

Source: Reuters
By Mark Trevelyan, Security Correspondent

Interpol Turns to Technology to Fight Child Porn

BERLIN -- Interpol will launch a big push to identify child sex victims and prosecute abusers with the help of special software that can minutely analyze pornographic images, many from the Internet, and spot vital background clues.

Hamish McCulloch, a British investigator at Interpol who specializes in child porn, said police around the world will get access to the technology via a 3.2 million euro image database to be funded by the Group of Eight (G8) leading nations.

He said it should lead to a big rise in the number of countries submitting child porn images to Interpol -- currently fewer than 20 -- and in the number of victims found and rescued.

"Currently investigations tend to focus on trying to seize computers, forensically examine the hard drive and obtain the evidence to prosecute for possession or distribution (of child pornography)," McCulloch told Reuters in an interview.

"The countries who are saying 'let's try to identify the victim' are limited. And that's really where the push has got to go ...Once you've identified the victim, you've identified the abuser. The vast majority are identified through the victims."

Since 2001, the world police organization Interpol has built up a vast store of hundreds of thousands of pornographic images showing up to 20,000 different children.

It has managed to identify and rescue 346, with the largest numbers coming from Sweden, the United States and Germany -- a positive reflection, McCulloch says, on the commitment of police in those nations.

Until now, countries that want to run checks on new images have had to send requests to Interpol's headquarters in France to be handled by two specialist officers.

But with the G8 project, now being put out to commercial tender, the system will be automated and widened so police anywhere can conduct their own searches around the clock to check if newly found images match those already stored.

The specialized software can match not only victims but also crime scenes, even when the images in question are taken in apparently anonymous indoor settings.

Analyzing a photo of a young girl discovered on a computer in the United States, for example, the Interpol team found a match with four pictures from Belgium, showing a different child in the same room.

The computer made the connection by recognizing the wallpaper and the distinctive floral pattern on a pillowcase. Police were eventually able to trace the victims and the abuser.

In another case, McCulloch believes police are now close to arresting a pedophile in Poland who has posted child porn that was submitted to Interpol by Sweden and Canada.

The key lead now is a series of photographs showing the man exposing himself in his car as young children walk past. McCulloch says he is confident police will track down the scene, and the culprit, from details glimpsed in the background of the pictures, such as buildings, graffiti and trees.

While the Internet remains flooded with child pornography -- "With three clicks you can find images of child abuse very easily" -- McCulloch believes the new technology significantly raises the chances of catching offenders.

"People who believed they were not going to be identified and prosecuted and go to prison are finding law enforcement are knocking on their door in every corner of the world, from information that someone thousands of miles away has found on a PC and forwarded through Interpol channels."

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