By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Law enforcement officials working undercover were sent child pornography files from nearly 20,000 private computers in the state over a 30-month period, according to a report by an expert on the distribution of Internet child porn.
Those computers accounted for 215,197 Internet child pornography transactions between October 2005 and February, according to a state report developed by Flint Waters, a special agent with the Wyoming attorney general's Division of Criminal Investigation. He has developed a national online system to track such activity.
Waters is part of a federal program, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which consists of 59 law enforcement agencies nationwide, including two in Virginia. Waters's report found that Herndon ranked fourth among Virginia localities in the number of computers known to possess child pornography statewide. The town of 23,000 is reported to have 1,058 known computers that sent hard-core child pornography to investigators. The task force helped analyze the data, which found that Alexandria had 657 such computers; Fairfax County, 507; Arlington County, 503; and Woodbridge, 467. The city with the most computers was Virginia Beach, followed by Norfolk and Richmond.
The recorded numbers are just a small percentage of the traffic generated by child pornography distributors, who use peer-to-peer file-sharing networks such as Lime Wire to peddle often violent and hard-core movies and images, Waters said. The program tallies only the files that were distributed to undercover officers. The tracking software investigators use, Operation Fairplay, does not tally files shared between private users.
"Right now there's no way that law enforcement can keep up with all this activity," Waters said, adding that such activity has increased steadily in the United States.
Operation Fairplay is being used by law enforcement agencies across the United States and in 18 other countries, including England, France and Sweden. The software allows investigators to download child pornography from a suspected computer that shares files with the investigators and then identify the machine's Internet protocol address. Officials can obtain a physical address from the sender's Internet service provider, which can lead to a search warrant.
Virginia has started to expand state efforts to track down such offenders. Lawmakers will add $1.5 million to the biannual budget approved last month by the General Assembly and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) for the state's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. The task force's units, based in Fairfax and Bedford counties, are charged with helping police find Internet predators.
Virginia officials estimate that law enforcement officials are able to follow up on less than 2 percent of known cases, because of a lack of resources. The additional funding will enable departments to train more officers and provide more communities with the tracking software.
"The problem is expanding exponentially," said Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria), who pushed for the increase in state funding. He cited federal statistics that have shown that 55 percent of possessors of child pornography had committed contact offenses.
"The more you know about this stuff," Moran said, "the more you realize that every time you bring a computer into your home, you provide online predators with access to your children."