Canadian police see potential in anti-porn database

Microsoft Canada is edging ever closer to launching a multimillion-dollar database that promises to help Canadian police forces nab Internet pedophiles.

The database, called the Child Exploitation Linkage Tracking System, or

CELTS, is now under development in partnership with the Toronto Police Service. It has already been touted as a future international standard for tracking pedophiles who stalk children on theWeb.

With a $2-million price tag and an expected completion date of next year, the CELTS software will automatically rifle through files on computers seized by police. Such computers have been known to hold more than a million images of child pornography. The CELTS software will quickly catalogue the illegal material without police officers having to view each picture.

“”The first phase deals with the tracking, recording and the ongoing follow-up of pedophiles,”” explained Frank Clegg, president of Microsoft Canada. “”We’re looking at how police agencies keep track of all this information and share it across Canada and hopefully around the world.””

The second phase involves taking a “”face print”” of each child that appears in the many images. Clegg said the software could be capable of compiling a database of faces so they can be matched with other photos from other origins. Such a system could resemble the facial recognition technology now being discussed in the biometrics and customs security fields, said Clegg.

Once launched, the software would allow police to access information more quickly, subsequently speeding up the court process and allowing officers to find other people, Clegg added.

“”We’re trying to figure out what we need first and identify the best way to get this to the police,”” he said.

Detective sergeant Paul Gillespie of the Toronto Police Service’s sex-crimes unit, said he will be meeting with counterparts from other Canadian police forces over the next couple of months to talk about how the database can be used on a national scale.

“”Once this is populated by other child-exploitation units across the country, there will be an awful lot of information going into (CELTS),”” he said. “”That’s what we’re really excited about, because we anticipate seeing some non-obvious relationships (between Internet pedophiles) we weren’t aware of before.””

Learning how to use CELTS it won’t be a very intensive process for officers, added Gilespie. And it will instantly make their jobs less labour-intensive because the software seamlessly exports data from a seized computer into the CELTS system, after which it automatically sifts through the material and matches it to other files.

“”It’s not that difficult. We have such a large amount of information on a daily basis, whether it’s tips from Crime Stoppers or from all over the world, new cases, and we’re absolutely swamped,”” he said. “”We’re not really capturing and analyzing as best we could. We can start loading and firing into this database and start getting hits back as more things go into it. My unit is really looking forward to it.””

One of the biggest challenges is identifying the perpetrators. In past discussions with police officers, Clegg has learned that often some homes under investigation have three different computers, each of which transmits a special ID to another machine. By doing so, the user can hide behind a firewall to avoid getting caught.

“”So we’re trying to give the police as much technology to work with as the perpetrators have,”” Clegg said. Accordingly, Microsoft gave $60,000 worth of upgraded computer and software equipment to the sex crimes unit of the Toronto Police Service. The company has vowed to pay for all hookup costs involved when the project goes national.

The initial donation came after a frustrated Gillespie sent an e-mail message to Microsoft founder Bill Gates asking for help. The officer was having “”a rotten day”” when he sent the e-mail last January. In the message, he asked Gates if Microsoft made any software that could assist police in their investigations. Gillespie said he didn’t expect a reply, but Gates reportedly forwarded the message to Microsoft Canada and three weeks later he received a telephone call.

Since then, Clegg and Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino have met with Microsoft officials in Redmond, Wash. to ask them to place Internet pedophilia as high on the priority list as the war against spam. The Redmond contingent agreed.

“”So there is awareness,”” Clegg said. “”The consequences are severe. And it’s going to be a worldwide effort.””

Clegg added the battle against Internet pedophilia is similar to the spam battle in that it will require a vast amount of collaboration, including work with Internet Service Providers and police officers at every level.

Clegg illustrated the need for such collaboration last September when he spoke to nearly 330 child-welfare and law-enforcement workers at the Toronto Police Service’s international conference on child exploitation.

Later this month, Clegg will repeat his message in Montreal where he will address attendees of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police’s annual conference.

“”We’re hoping to gravitate the next level of participation around that meeting,”” said Clegg.

In the near future, Microsoft may send one of its own to London, England, to meet with developers of a similar database and gather possible ideas on how to improve CELTS.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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