Expect More People to Face Child Pornography Charges as Online Investigation into EMail and Search Queries Expand in 2014

Earlier this week, an Arlington man named Barry Robert Turner was sentenced by federal judge John McBryde to 40 years behind bars in a federal prison in a sentencing hearing that came about after Turner pled guilty to one felony count of distribution of child pornography. In the FBI news release, Turner’s crime is described as one where he “…used the Internet and Google gmail to e-mail a one-minute video of child pornography, depicting a toddler, to another individual.” Quoting the complaint filed against him by the U.S. Attorney, Turner also allegedly answered a Craigslist ad for “taboo phone sex” and began a correspondence after that with the person who had placed the Craigslist advertisement. Topic of conversation? Child pornography, of course.

Barry Turner is not alone in being the target of an FBI investigation into child pornography where FBI efforts are used not in the field, but on the keyboard. Turner’s case was one more case investigated and filed as part of the federal government’s Project Safe Childhood. Child pornography investigations via Project Safe Childhood have been going on since 2006, where the Department of Justice spearheads a task force of agencies at federal, state, and local levels – along with other helpful organizations and individuals (like the the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children) – to find, investigate, and charge child pornography cases all over the United States.

Project Safe Childhood Is National Organization of Investigators Looking for Child Pornography Arrests

According to the Project Safe Childhood website, there’s been an increase in child pornography indictments by federal prosecutors: the number of indictments has jumped 15% from 2007 to 2011. Moreover, since Project Safe Childhood began, over 64 sentences of life without parole have been handed down by federal judges in Project Safe Childhood cases.

Expect this trend to continue: the federal interest in the investigation and prosecution of child pornography cases is high and we can assume that there will be many more news stories where federal arrests have been made on a wide variety of child pornography charges. Consider these recent news reports from this week alone:

1.  In Montana, a 73-year-old man named Barry Darlington was indicted on charges that he not only was a producer of child pornography for several years, but that he began distributing his product over the Internet back in 2005. Darlington is also charged with trying to set up a meeting with a minor child, inviting her to spend the night at his home.

2.  In Georgia, a 19-year-old boy named Devin Williams was indicted on solicitation of child pornography charges and repeated counts of receiving child pornography last month that resulted after Homeland Security agents in Bangor, Maine, investigating an email account of another person (who has already admitted to child pornography charges) discovered that materials had been sent from that email account to another email account under the name “big.hamster” which ended up being the account of the nineteen year old Mr. Williams.

How Are Lots of These Internet Investigations So Successful?  EMail Is Being Monitored for Child Pornography References Without the Email Account Owner’s Knowledge

There’s lots of discussion in the media as well as around the proverbial office water cooler about the growing concern about the lack of individual privacy on the World Wide Web today, and it seems that most people are concerned about protecting their financial information from identity theft and credit card fraud. It’s true that placing things like bank account numbers and credit card information online can be dangerous and make people vulnerable, but the truth is that much more information that this is being sifted through by invisible organizations.

Like Google. There is a federal law that requires Google to report its suspicions about potential illegal activities going on in an email account on its GMail.com service. Google, if certain triggers are hit, will notify the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children about its suspicions of child pornography. After that, the legal authorities get involved.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 84% of reports the Center receives about online child pornography come from email providers like Google.   Google, however, is voluntarily expanding its efforts to use its resources to help track down suspected child pornography.

All while the person who owns and uses that email account or Google search engine and continues to go about his daily activities without any awareness that this is going on.

Until the police show up and bust him – which is exactly what happened recently to Michael Ray Hill in Tuscon, Arizona. Tuscon police showed up at his door and arrested him for grabbing over 200 child pornography images from the Web and downloading them onto his computer. Tuscon police learned about Mr. Hill after Google had notified the National Center about Google’s concerns about things found in Hill’s GMail account. 

Google Announces Expanded Efforts to Help Law Enforcement Find Child Pornography Online Through Email, YouTube videos, and Google Search

This week, Google announced that they are working to build advanced technology designed specifically to find online child porn via the Google search engine as well as blocking images that are (or could be) child pornography from showing up in Google search engine results. Already they have targeted alerts for over 100,000 different search queries (words, phrases used in a Google search).

Google’s subsidiary YouTube is also testing out a new technology that will be able to find and filter out child pornography videos. Explained Eric Schmidt of Google in an op-ed piece he wrote for the UK Daily Mail (read the entire piece here):

There are many organisations working to fight the sexual exploitation of kids online – and we want to ensure they have the best technical support. So Google plans to second computer engineers to both the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) here in Britain and the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). We also plan to fund internships for other engineers at these organisations. This will help the IWF and NCMEC stay one step ahead.

The sexual abuse of children is a global challenge, and success depends on everyone working together – law enforcement, internet companies and charities. We welcome the lead taken by the British Government, and hope that the technologies developed (and shared) by our industry will make a real difference in the fight against this terrible crime.

How Can Google Do This? Read the Terms of Service

When anyone agrees to take up Google on its offer of free email service or free search engine search, then that person must agree to the Terms of Service that Google has established as a condition of doing business with Google. Part of that language (which few people read, right?) allows Google to do this sort of snooping into email accounts and search queries.

Which seems like a legitimate thing to do in the protection of children from sexual exploitation, many argue, but what about someone who might get caught up in the automation system who is innocent of allegations made against him (or her)?

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For more about child pornography charges, please check out our web resources page on the federal crime of Possession and Distribution of Child Pornography and our recent blog post, “Federal Child Pornography Charges Often Involve Federal Surveillance Of Online Communications, Personal Email Records, Stored Computer Files,” as well as Case Results which include:

(1) sentencing hearing representation by Michael Lowe in charges of Transport and Receipt of Child Pornography where non-guideline sentence of the absolute minimum sentence under federal law was given despite prosecution’s request for Maximum Federal Sentence of 235 to 293 months; and

(2) state investigation into Online Solicitation of a Minor resulted in probation with no jail time and no loss of employment/professional status for Mr. Lowe’s client.

 

 


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