Federal investigators said this was the first time they had come across the Google Hello program, a now-defunct instant messaging system for photos, in a child-pornography case.
Links from Rubenaker’s computer eventually produced hundreds of leads that spanned continents. Last month, two Virginia men were among the latest offenders to be sentenced to prison for participating in a sophisticated, members-only ring that shared child pornography.
The years-long investigation into shadowy groups on Google Hello and the Multiply social network has revealed that pedophiles are using powerful encryption tools in social media and other programs to illegally share child pornography. Child-porn rings are also using a simple — but highly effective — tool to keep prying investigators at bay.
Would-be ring members are increasingly being asked to share photographs and videos of children being sexually abused in order to gain entry, investigators say. Because sharing child pornography is a crime — it re-victimizes abused children — law enforcement officers are prohibited from offering images and videos in sting operations. As a result, officials say, it is becoming more difficult to monitor child-porn rings.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who investigated links radiating from Rubenaker’s computer also said that possibly as a result of the security tactic, they had come across numerous instances of men sexually abusing their own children to gain “entry tickets” to members-only child-pornography rings.
Rubenaker’s links led investigators to 24 people who traded images and videos with him, according to Brian Bujdoso, an ICE special agent. One contact, an Ohio man with the screen name “Jamokie,” whose real name is Michael Janosko, had in turn shared child pornography with a third man, whose screen name was “Bigbaddaddie,” officials say. That turned out to be a 31-year-old father from Calgary, Alberta.
When Canadian authorities raided the man’s home, they found that he had been sexually abusing his daughter. (The Washington Post is withholding the man’s name to protect her identity. )
“He was molesting his child; he had started molesting that child from the age of 6 months,” Bujdoso said. “He was making those images so he could gain access to better images of child pornography.”
Bujdoso said the Google Hello program allowed users to share pictures while simultaneously allowing conversations among members about the photos.
While social-networking and photo-sharing programs are widely used to share innocuous photos and videos, Bujdoso said that pedophiles had recognized their value — and were taking advantage of privacy and encryption settings to keep investigators at bay.