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Locating, tracking and limiting the amount of child pornography on the Internet is a mission complicated by numerous issues. Below is the list of the most crucial problems that stand on the way of effectively combating child pornography as a phenomenon.
First, the structure of the Internet and the uncertainty of jurisdiction that results from this structure make any attempts at controlling the situation vain. The Internet is limitless and has no borders. The circulation of the information in this environment is relatively free and extremely fast. Some online pornography crimes do not fall within a particular law enforcement jurisdiction and that is why their investigation becomes impossible. Others remain unpunished because the Internet entries do not bear responsibility for the content. Moreover, tracking all users of child pornography content is impossible in the general traffic. “The Internet is the ultimate democratic entity and is essentially ungovernable” (Wortley & Smallbone, 2006, p. 25).
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Second, there exists no single, holistic and flawless definition of child pornography and punishable criminal behavior in this field. “A primary challenge is that law enforcement investigators must prove that images identified fit statutory definitions of child pornography” (Wells, Finkelhor, Wolak & Mitchell, 2007, p. 272). In fact, many images show children in ambiguous settings and/or engaged in activities that may be classified as both innocent and pornographic (e.g. a child bathing). Such images are referred to as “borderline Internet child pornography images” (Wells, Finkelhor, Wolak & Mitchell, 2007, p. 272). The images of this kind are often not regarded as a solid proof during the investigation or in the courtroom. Another issue related to assessing the visual materials is the impossibility of determining the exact age of victims on the images or videos. It also complicates cases (Wells, Finkelhor, Wolak & Mitchell, 2007).
Third, the investigation of cases of online child pornography often involves such practices as the collection of the digital evidence. Unlike physical evidence, digital evidence is immaterialand much more “mobile”, i.e. a suspect can dispose of it much easier and faster. Naturally, law enforcement professionals can restore the deleted files from the offender’s hard drive to use them as the evidence of his crime. Nevertheless, some users or distributors of the child pornography are good IT specialists themselves who know how to leave no digital trail. There exist servers that “strip” the identity of a sender from receiver’s e-mails. File encryption is another obstacle in the process of retrieving evidence. In addition, the evidence may be stored on a distant server and not on a suspect’s PC. Many users visit child pornography sites, newsgroups and chat rooms but never download the pornographic content. The analysis of their browsing history may show the trail to such websites; however, it is a weak proof. Moreover, people who visit pornographic sites may use web-based software to hide their IP. The latter considerably complicates the work of law enforcement. Another way for an offender or consumer to avoid legal punishment is the use of public places or disposable mobile devices to store and access child pornography, as well as hiding behind a username and fake alias. Linking a suspect with their crime is almost impossible under such conditions (Wells, Finkelhor, Wolak & Mitchell, 2007; Wortley & Smallbone, 2006).
Fourth, the investigation may require law enforcement agents to act undercover posing as interested users. In this respect, tremendous resources, namely financial, technical, training and manpower are needed to allow law enforcement to bring the suspect to justice, close the channels of pornography circulation (such as a website or chat room), and rescue the exploited children. In order to find and track an individual engaged in the distribution or consumption of pornographic content, the agents need to have up-to-date computers with a free access to the Internet. They should receive a special training to know how to operate in the virtual environment, especially when posing as a person who shares the suspect’s passion for child pornography. In addition, a specific tracking digital technology may be needed to perform such operations (Wells, Finkelhor, Wolak & Mitchell, 2007). However, even with high technologies available, the loss of data is possible. “Seizure of a suspect’s computer requires specialized expertise, and, if handled incorrectly, may result in the loss of critical evidence” (Wortley & Smallbone, 2006, p. 23).
Fifth, identifying offenders is problematic. According to some sources, law enforcement possesses scarce materials regarding “the relationship between personality characteristics and Internet child pornography use” (Siegfried, Lovely, & Rogers, 2008, p. 295).
Sixth, the availability and accessibility of technologies that allow one to manipulate images make it almost impossible to prove that “a particular image was produced using real children” (United States, 2008, p. 4).
Seventh, when located and closed, websites, chat rooms and other Internet media of distribution and storage of the child pornography often reopen under different names and addresses. Others utilize sophisticated protocols that prevent law enforcement from locating them (Wortley & Smallbone, 2006).
Fighting pornography over the Internet is an extremely complicated but possible mission. In order to be efficient, law enforcement should focus primarily on the three areas.
First, law enforcement efforts should be coordinated and involve multiple jurisdictions from many countries. A joint international effort is essential because of the global coverage of the Internet and the ability of users to exchange, share and post pornographic content from/to any place in the world almost instantaneously and freely. Information sharing between the agencies and countries can help create law enforcement network that would be able to “cover” the Internet networks more efficiently. In a way, law enforcement network will function in the best traditions of the Internet, i.e. will have no borders and enable almost instantaneous information exchange. The aforementioned scheme can benefit the counter-pornography initiative just as well as it serves the purposes of the offenders and pornography users. However, this time, the benefits of the Internet would serve a good aim.
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