Law enforcement agencies that investigate child pornography cases face special technological challenges when tracking the distribution of contraband on the Internet, and then in building a case against a specific defendant. A case in point is “Dreamboard”, an online bulletin board that advertised and distributed child pornography. Dreamboard users employed encryption software, peer-to-peer networks and the so-called “Dark Web” to share images between and amount members/subscribers in 13 different countries. In fact, all Dreamboard subscribers were required to use specific encryption software when viewing and/or sharing images. Further, each file description had a specific link and password which allowed access to images through another website that stored encrypted files. Dreamboard was the target of a 2009 sting operation that resulted in approximately 70 convictions. The site was infiltrated through the efforts of several dozen law enforcement agencies including, without limitation, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, and 35 domestic ICE offices.
Dreamboard users obviously had to have both a level of technological skill, as well as the appropriate equipment and software, to be members. The Dreamboard case was, however, not unique in this regard. In a recent Louisiana case, a defendant set his computer to wipe the hard drive clean if a password was not entered within a few seconds of opening the device. Another defendant asked an undercover agent posing as a minor to send him a picture during an online chat. Law enforcement personnel are not allowed to distribute pornography, so the agent’s smartphone would not allow him to send a photo. This ultimately led the defendant to believe that the agent was using a smartphone, at which point he ended the conversation.
If it all sounds complicated, that’s because it is. The possession and distribution of online pornography is becoming increasingly sophisticated in terms of technology and scope. These cases can include the use of password protection, encryption, file servers and/or peer-to-peer networks, software designed to eliminate evidence, remote storage, partitioned hard drives, and the like. These cases are further complicated by the fact that pornography has gone global, and frequently involves the use of mobile devices, apps, and social media sites including What’s App, Kik Messenger, Instagram and Snapchat. Finally, cases can involve terabytes of data. (One terabyte equals about 1,000 gigabytes, and can hold approximately 3.6 million images or 300 hours of video.) Continue reading