Child-porn trading figures

The gap between the several cases of internet child pornography being investigated to the point of search warrants each month and 81 prosecutions in five years doesn't mean that innocent people are being unjustifiably investigated, says Internal Affairs.

The gap between the several cases of internet child pornography being investigated to the point of search warrants each month and 81 prosecutions in five years doesn't mean that innocent people are being unjustifiably investigated, says Internal Affairs.

The two or three search warrants issued each month regarding the trading of child porn over the internet does mean there is some substance in the belief that such material is being swapped, says IA censorship compliance chief Steve O’Brien. While this contrasts with a report by Wellington's Dominion last month that about 30 internet child-porn traders a month were being “busted”, neither is the much lower figure of 81 successful prosecutions over almost five years a true picture of the prevalence of such trading, says IA.

The 30-a-month figure actually represents the number of “cases closed” over the whole censorship compliance arena, O'Brien says. Some of these relate to non-internet activities, some evident online culprits are let off with a warning and in some cases there is insufficient firm evidence to bring a prosecution. Yet other cases are referred to other agencies – “where we find it’s a 15-year-old boy who’s been using his parents’ computer, we might bring it to the attention of Police Youth Aid,” and where an overseas trader is identified, information would go to overseas law enforcement agencies.

In a very few cases, no offence is found as a result of executing a search warrant, and none of these to O’Brien’s recollection relate to internet trading. A case where a warning is considered sufficient might be, for example, where someone trades a lot of R18 material online and has inadvertently dealt in a small number of items they didn’t realise were legally objectionable.

“Insufficient evidence” covers cases where a New Zealand resident is detected in an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel, with a name indicating its business is clearly the trading of child porn, “but he doesn’t send us any when we request it”.

If evidence is obtained, the procedure then is usually to issue a search warrant on the suspect’s ISP, to establish who was connected to the dynamically assigned IP address involved at the time. Only on about one occasion has this resulted in the wrong person being fingered because of a slight time error, O’Brien says. “They’re usually on the channel for a long time, so a discrepancy of a few minutes [such as might arise from a mis-setting of clocks] doesn’t matter.”

To date, when a prosecution has been brought in relation to internet material, it has invariably resulted in a conviction, O’Brien says. In the vast majority of cases this has been for child pornography; one recent case was solely for material involving bestiality. In the latter case there was an unsubstantiated suspicion that child porn was also involved.

O’Brien also explains a wide difference between the number of successful prosecutions and the number of search warrants issued. Figures provided to Computerworld last month - and in 1998 to this reporter when working for another publication - show an average of just over 100 search warrants issued per year since 1996.

A warrant would be issued to search the records of the ISP; another may be issued on a telco’s records to verify the time of a dial-up connection and yet another on the premises of the suspect, says O’Brien. Also several warrants may be issued in pursuit of different inquiries which prove to involve the same individual.

“We’re not Big Brother. We’re not trying to come down heavily on anyone trading porn, but there is material out there which involves the sexual exploitation of children, and that’s where we want to put our energy.”

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