Police ID suspects in software-aided child porn probe

TORONTO — Police on Thursday identified two out of nine Canadian suspects charged in an international child pornography ring as the result of an investigation that was aided by a software tool developed by Microsoft Canada.

At a media briefing, Toronto Police Service identified Toronto resident Andre Mohomad, 20, who was arrested on February 9 for possession and distribution of child pornography. Mohomad, who is currently out on bail, is scheduled for a court appearance in Toronto next month. The other suspect, who police did not name, is in the jurisdiction of York Regional Police.

Thursday’s briefing was a followup to a press conference held in the U.S. earlier this week in which law enforcement officials revealed a worldwide Internet chat room that was used to trade child pornography images and also included live streaming video of adults sexually molesting children and infants.

On Wednesday at a U.S. Department of Justice press conference in Chicago, Canadian and American law enforcement officials, including TPS Acting Chief Tony Warr, announced that 27 people in four countries, including the U.S., Canada, Australia and England, were charged in connection to activity in a chat room called “Kiddypics & Kiddyvids.” The behaviour and images, which were sent via peer-to-peer networks around the world, officials describe as “the worst imaginable forms of child pornography,” with the youngest victim less than 18 months old. To date seven victims have been identified.

Microsoft’s Child Exploitation Tracking System (CETS) has been a key tool in the investigation, connecting the original arrest, which was made in Edmonton last year, to contacts in the U.K. that were using the same chat room. The information collected at the Edmonton site was entered into the CETS system, which helped move the investigation along much faster than traditional means, said Toronto Police Service (TPS) Inspector Jane Wilcox of Toronto Police Service, who fielded questions from media on Thursday.

“CETS facilitated the speed of this investigation by identifying a link between child pornography images and the name of this particular chat room,” said Wilcox. “Officers were able to identify administrators within that room.”

The investigation began in Edmonton when a mother overheard two children at a hockey game in a conversation that “caused great concern,” said Wilcox. The mother contacted Edmonton Police, which followed up on the information and subsequently arrested the first person in the case. They pursued it and found that some of the accused contacts were in the U.K., where police there arrested a suspect within 24 hours of being notified by Edmonton Police.

When pressed, Microsoft, however, would not comment on exactly how the software is used to catch offenders except to say that police use it to share and store information in a secure environment.

“Law enforcement agencies that are using CETS can securely share and store information on the investigations they’re undertaking,” said John Hancock, senior consultant at Microsoft Canada. “It’s designed to match up investigations so that law enforcement agencies across the country are aware of connections.”

CETS, which is hosted at the RCMP’s National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre (NCCC), is a place where law enforcement officials can enter information relating to the sexual exploitation of children. The software, which runs exclusively on the Microsoft platform, has been donated by Microsoft Canada to 25 agencies across Canada including Toronto, Edmonton and Charlottetown. Several other countries around the world, including forces in Europe, South America and Asia are currently planning CETS deployments, according to Hancock.

The idea behind CETS, which originally launched in April 2005, began when Toronto TPS Detective Sergeant Paul Gillespie e-mailed Bill Gates two years ago asking for his help to create a technology to make it easier to investigate online child porn. Gillespie on Wednesday met with Gates for the first time in a face-to-face meeting at Microsoft’s annual Government Leaders’ Forum.

In a separate announcement Thursday, Toronto Police also made a plea to the public for more information regarding the arrest of a 27-year-old Markham man known as Chou “Charles” Eng Fong, who is alleged to have violently sexually assaulted a young girl. Fong allegedly used the popular instant messaging program MSN Messenger to lure a 15-year-old girl to meet him at a Scarborough mall. The following day, knowing that her parents were not home, he is alleged to have visited her house where he repeatedly sexually assaulted her.

Police have seized two computers and a number of CDs, which has led them to believe that there might be other victims out there.

Detective Constable Shawna Coxon of TPS Sex Crimes Unit, Child Exploitation Section, urged parents to speak to their kids about what they’re doing online.

“They may not know their kids are using MSN,” said Coxon, who also spoke at Thursday’s briefing. “It’s not like the phone where you can hear your kids at any given time.”

While CETS was not used in this case to capture the accused, Coxon said the software is ideal for helping officers in this type of an investigation.

“Certainly CETS is something that could be used in the future for a case exactly like this,” she said.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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