I love those Dateline NBC-type programs where they catch potential child sex predators who think they are setting up an intimate meeting with a 13- or 15-year old child via the Internet. How can it be that every sicko in the world hasn’t heard that the child they are flirting with online is more than likely a law enforcement officer?
Then again, I’m glad they don't realize this. It means more of them get caught.
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Some people think the Internet is a terrible place because it allows child predators to be more anonymous and to have easy contact with more children. Not me. As the father of four children, including three teenage daughters, I love the Internet. Years ago, an illicit mailing had to come to the attention of a Postmaster General for these sickos to get caught. The vast majority of pedophiles went undetected, molesting children for decades before getting caught, if at all.
Now, the feds pose online and attract the bees to the honey. Pedophiles are even stupid enough to give their real credit card numbers to hoax child porn Web sites concocted by the Feds. We’re catching a thousand criminals at a time.
That’s a thousand criminals, often posing as coaches, teachers, and preachers, who will not have ready access to my child -- at least not while they are in jail. And after they get out, I can track them (their picture, crime, and address) using publicly accessible online registries. I feel 20 times safer today than I did before the Internet revolution. Information is power.
As much as I love the Dateline shows, the real grunt work that solves most child predator crimes doesn’t involve a camera crew, fake house, or a TV reporter. As anyone in law enforcement can tell you, solving crime is a mostly un-glamorous process involving evidence collection, information pushing, documentation, and pure human sweat equity. It’s the boring things behind the scenes -- the stuff that would never make CSI: Miami -- that solves most crimes.
Unfortunately, you can’t go to Best Buy and pick up canned software custom designed to help law enforcement catch pedophiles. This problem is exactly what led Paul Gillespie, a police officer with the Toronto Police Child Exploitation Sex Crimes Unit, to e-mail Microsoft’s Bill Gates in 2003 and ask for help in tracking child predators. Gillespie’s e-mail contained a plea that spoke of highly technical pedophiles and problems of tracking and analyzing voluminous amounts of data.
Microsoft responded by creating the Child Exploitation Tracking System (CETS). Microsoft programmer John Hancock spent many months with the Canadian law enforcement authorities and several other agencies to develop what has so far been a $7 million effort that's a shining example of multinational collaboration.
CETS is a shared, Web-enabled database customized for law enforcement investigations. It relies heavily on Microsoft technologies, including SharePoint and MS-SQL, but all data is stored in a readily accessible XML-format. It excels at storing investigation information, sharing that information across law enforcement agencies, and helping to intelligently analyze stored information.