National Association to Protect Children
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
News of a computer virus that could frame innocent people with child pornography is bad news... both because of the truth and the falsehood behind the story.
An Associated Press story Monday that ran under the headline, "Framed for Child Porn" reported that "pedophiles can exploit virus-infected PCs to remotely store and view their stash without fear they'll get caught." The article had no hard information on how enormous--or how miniscule--the problem of child porn viruses might be, but did ominously add, "At any moment, about 20 million of the estimated 1 billion Internet-connected PCs worldwide are infected with viruses..."
Are child pornography viruses really possible? Of course, and no one should discount the possibility that child pornographers will find new ways to flood their crime scene recordings into every corner of the Internet, for a variety of reasons.
But how common are "child porn viruses" now? Extremely rare to never-seen at this point, say law enforcement (link ) and some privacy experts. Negative reaction to this week's media hype is rooted in fear that stories like this will cast doubt on what we know about the actual magnitude of U.S. child pornography trafficking and provide fuel to bogus defense strategies.
In a column yesterday by Larry Magid of the Cnet News Service, Phil Malone, a Harvard Law School professor who is the director of the Berkman Center Cyberlaw Clinic, puts the story in some perspective:
"It's the excuse of the moment for defendants," he said. "Lots of child porn defendants try to blame (images found on their computers) on viruses, but it's almost never true. You can actually figure this out. In the handful of cases that have been problematic, it looks as if everyone moved too quickly. The agency discovered material and immediately jumped to conclusions." Malone added that "good, solid forensics would be able to tell in virtually every case."
The bottom line is this: the possiblity that child pornography traffickers could involve not only children but innocent adults as well in their heinous crimes, is just further proof that our government must take action now. And the possibility that these criminals will adapt new technologies to hide their tracks is simply more proof that law enforcement must be given equal technological firepower immediately, such as serious federal funding for the emerging Oak Ridge Child Rescue project .