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P2P investigation leads to child-porn busts
Published: 2008-08-19

Federal law enforcement officials arrested seven men on Tuesday on charges related to child pornography, the latest arrests in an investigation of peer-to-peer networks that has led to 52 California residents charged or indicted this year.

The investigation, spearheaded by the FBI's Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement (SAFE) team and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), used unspecified "sophisticated computer programs" to identify child pornography stored in folders shared through peer-to-peer applications, such as Limewire, according to a statement released by the office of Thomas O'Brien, the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California. Law enforcement officers have previously used pattern-matching programs, similar to antivirus scanners, to quickly scan Usenet groups for images that match a list of known images of child abuse.

"As criminals exploit technology to commit their crimes -- whether it be identity theft, money laundering, distribution of child pornography, or any other criminal conduct -- law enforcement will quickly react to develop equally sophisticated means to track down their wrongdoing," O'Brien said in a statement.

Federal law enforcement and state prosecutors have aggressively targeted those who traffic in child pornography. In 2006, officials announced that more than 125 arrests had been made nationwide as part of an investigation into a Web site that sold access to images of child exploitation. The FBI have also reportedly sent links of purported child pornography to newsgroups and then raided anyone who clicked on them.

Companies have also rushed to cooperate with law enforcement on fighting online sex crimes. Five major Internet service providers pledged to seek out and bar Usenet groups that traffic in child pornography. And in 2007, after finding its service potentially a haven for thousands of convicted sexual offenders, MySpace barred at least 29,000 people believed to be registered offenders from its social network.

The efforts are not without some controversy, however. Two progressive policy groups have urged state prosecutors to do more to target online crimes that affect consumers, not just child exploitation crimes. The Center for Democracy and Technology and the Center for American Progress could not find much reliable data on states' investigations into electronic crimes, but what they did find suggested that prosecutors are overly focused on sex crimes. Moreover, in two notable cases, prosecutors appear to have gotten the wrong person, resulting in calls for better training of law enforcement personnel.

In the latest case, eight law enforcement agencies teamed up with the FBI to form SAFE, including the California Department of Justice, U.S. Postal Service, Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. The U.S. Secret Service and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also took part.

All 52 people charged or indicted as a result of the investigation reside in California. A single charge of possession of child pornography carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, unless the person has previously been convicted of a child exploitation crime, in which case the sentence is a minimum 10-year prison term.

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Posted by: Robert Lemos
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P2P investigation leads to child-porn busts 2008-08-20
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