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Microsoft PhotoDNA Will Help Cops Fight Child Porn

Helps remove illegal content, collate evidence, and expedite cases.

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Microsoft PhotoDNA Will Help Cops Fight Child Porn
[ Technology]

Microsoft announced today that it has partnered with Swedish company NetClean to make its patented PhotoDNA technology available free to law enforcement agencies investigating child sexual abuse cases. The technology will help agencies cull through the overwhelmingly large amount of sexually abusive content that is being shared across the Web.

“Since 2002, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has reviewed more than 65 million images and videos of child sexual exploitation reported by law enforcement,” writes Bill Harmon, Associate General Counsel to the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit. Those images include pictures and videos of infants and toddlers who are unable to seek help or tell anyone about their abuse, and not only are these children often repeat victims of direct abuse, they are victimized again every time an image of their abuse is shared. Says Harmon:

    The images [of child sexual abuse] continue to grow increasingly violent and the victims younger. … These crimes turn a single horrific moment of sexual abuse of a child into an unending series of violations of that child. We simply cannot allow people to continue trading these horrifying images online when we have the technology to help do something about it. Microsoft is proud to make PhotoDNA available to law enforcement, to help in their battle to quickly identify and rescue these children.

What is PhotoDNA?

PhotoDNA is an image-matching technology developed by Microsoft Research in collaboration with Dartmouth College. It converts images into a unique digital “signature”, a mathematical pattern that can help identify duplicates of the same image, link a modified image to its original form, and track that image to new online locations whenever it is shared.

PhotoDNA is already being used by Facebook, Microsoft, and other online service providers to identify, report, and eliminate images of child pornography being shared across or display through their services. Now the technology will not only help identify and report images, but it will make the processing of those images in criminal investigations faster and easier.

How does this help law enforcement investigate child abuse cases?

Microsoft’s stated goals in providing PhotoDNA to law enforcement are threefold. First, the technology (in collaboration with NetClean Analyze software) enables users to more quickly sort and analyze individual images involved in child pornography investigations. Oftentimes, multiple copies of the same image — or modified versions of the original — are seized or discovered during an investigation. Each of those images must be analyzed and sorted, with duplicates

Second, Microsoft hopes its technology will “limit officer exposure to the corrosive effects of viewing child rape images.” In every investigation, it falls to someone to have to visually analyze all seized images. This is a necessary but difficult job, and the constant review of child abuse images can have significant and lasting psychological effects on the officer doing the work. By sorting and condensing like images, NetClean and PhotoDNA not only saves time and expedites investigations, but also minimizes the amount of time that officers have to be subjected to the unsettling material themselves.

Third, Microsoft its technology will “strengthen law enforcement’s ability to quickly identify and rescue victims and get child abusers off the street.” Primarily through its integration into the Child Exploitation Tracking System (CETS) — another Microsoft software package which helps to manage and link worldwide child abuse cases, track subjects, and share evidence and information across jurisdictions and international borders — PhotoDNA will not only help track and eliminate images on the Web, but can also help agencies collaborate in related investigations and rescue victims sooner before further victimization can occur.

Here’s a video about Microsoft and NetClean’s partnership with law enforcement agencies:

How can law enforcements get the technology?

According to the Microsoft Blog, PhotoDNA will be available to law enforcement agencies via:

  • NetClean Analyze, NetClean’s free law enforcement software that helps agencies categorize, analyze, and archive evidence of child sexual abuse, identify victims, and report and administer cases of child rape.
  • CETS, mentioned above, which is currently used by agencies in Austalia, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.
  • Direct Licensing, primarily for agencies “with the technical capacity and resources required to manage PhotoDNA source code integration themselves.” Agencies already using a direct license of PhotoDNA source code include the Netherlands Forensics Institute and the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs.

I’m not a law enforcement agent, but I think this is a great development. Is there any way to show my support?

Yes. “[A]ll parts of society, including the private sector and companies like Microsoft,” writes Harmon, “have an obligation to work together to help protect children and eliminate child pornography.” You can do your part by contacting online service providers that you use and requesting that they employ technology like PhotoDNA to help track and eliminate illegal and abusive content. And if you witness or suspect an incident of child exploitation, report it immediately to your local law enforcement agency. You can also provide an anonymous tip at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s CyberTipline.

Image Source: TechnoStrek

Microsoft PhotoDNA Will Help Cops Fight Child Porn
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