New Fight to Protect Exploited Children Online

WASHINGTON — The International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children launched a new campaign against online child pornography Thursday morning backed with a $1 million contribution from philanthropist Sheila C. Johnson and Microsoft.

The announcement of the new initiative came at a National Press Club affair that included Johnson, Microsoft officials, Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble and U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA).

Through Johnson’s $500,000 donation and Microsoft’s equal match, the money is earmarked for law enforcement technology training throughout the world. The first of these four-day sessions in fighting computer-facilitated crimes against children took place in France in December and a second was held in Brazil two months ago. The International Centre plans as many as 10 more sessions this year.

“To combat global networks of child pornographers, we must become a global network of child protectors,” said Johnson, a co-founder Black Entertainment Television and an International Centre board member.

Nancy Anderson, deputy general counsel at Microsoft , told the packed room it is “critical that the Internet, the source of so much benefit for students and educators, not be undermined by those who harm children.”

Johnson said online child pornography is “largely unrecognized and underreported” and available data seems to bear this out. The International Centre says it received more than 200,000 reports of “Internet-related child pornography” during 2003, although there is no breakdown of those numbers as to whether a crime was actually committed.

“We are very cautious with numbers because there really aren’t any numbers right now. We realize this [the Centre’s numbers] is anecdotal and not scientific,” Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the International Centre, told “The need for numbers is huge.”

Despite the lack of hard evidence, child advocates and law enforcement officials have little doubt child pornographers have found a haven on the Internet.

“We really thought in this country that we had the child pornography problem under control. In 1982 the Supreme Court said child pornography is not protected speech, it’s child abuse,” Allen said. “It disappeared from the shelves of adult book stores and the postal service cracked down on the use of the mail and it had become what many of us thought was a very minor problem.”

The Internet changed that perspective.

“With the advent of the Internet, it [child pornography] has exploded and I think that is purely and simply because those who have that interest in that kind of content can trade it, can access it and distribute it with virtually no risk,” Allen said.

Interpol, the largest international police organization in the world, U.S. officials and the International Centre aims to change those odds by creating an international monitoring and oversight system and bolstering law enforcement’s technical ability to investigate and prosecute child pornography cases.

“The Internet knows no geographical borders and recognizes no jurisdictional boundaries and neither do criminals who use it to exploit children,” Interpol’s Noble said. “Only through worldwide collaborations and partnerships like the ones we see here today can we rescue the world’s children from this type of exploitation.”

Microsoft’s Anderson told there are different levels of technology training for law enforcement training her company is helping to underwrite.

“Some of it is just basic familiarity with how technology works, how the Internet works. It is only really been recently that they actually had access to the technology within their own departments,” she said. “They’re actually probably slower than the private sector in getting the tools they need.”

Since much of the evidence of online child pornography is actually in a computer somewhere, Anderson said Microsoft was helping law enforcement officials understand tracing tools and how to analyze computer-related data.

“What we’re trying to do through this effort is to help law enforcement catch up,” Allen said. “Law enforcement always tends to be the last element of American society to take advantage of and utilize new technology.”

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