Scientist closing Net on paedophile rings
A computer scientist from Microsoft Research in Cambridge is developing technology that could soon close the net around paedophile rings using the internet to share indecent images of children.As part of the COD II Project, Tim Regan of the Lab’s Socio-Digital Systems group has already developed two tools – successfully used by the Internet Watch Foundation – to make it more difficult for child porn images to be shared among online communities by making it easier to find the images and remove them.
Now Regan is upping the ante by developing a more powerful tool that uses ‘social network visualisations’, so that once one illegal image has been uncovered, the networks responsible for disseminating them can also be exposed.
Regan plans to share his work with law enforcement agencies around the world and has already made preliminary contact with at least one.
He is currently working on a prototype and is in the process of gathering data from online communities, with MSN his first port of call. He has made it his professional life’s work to make it easier for internet users to find like-minded people around the globe, allowing them to share interests and knowledge.
Examples of his previous work includes the inclusion of Microsoft Messenger in the company’s Media Center software, which allows internet users to discuss their favourite TV show, for example.
Now he is concentrating on reversing dynamic, in his words: “making the internet a difficult place for people to share illegal images.”
“Groups like the social computing group and the community technologies group build tools and research methods to understand and enhance positive aspects of online community.
“The CODII project takes a different approach by examining how people organise themselves online to disseminate illegal images.
“The goal of the project is to design tools that help hotlines and moderators identify and remove illegal online content.”
The first of the two tools developed at Microsoft Research was an enhancement of the IWF’s bulk image viewer.
The tool is used for rapidly scanning newsgroup images. The second was an unreferenced picture finder used to locate hidden pictures on websites.
The next stage of research is to build a tool for moderators of online community platforms, which will unite novel image visualisation techniques, social clustering, and even linguistic analysis.
The aim is to debilitate paedophile communities by using their lines of communication as the mode of attack.
While he stresses that the work is still at an early stage, Regan feels there is “exciting potential.”
“This work involves combining the visualisation of ‘five degrees of freedom’ or ‘friend of a friend’ networks – people who may share something in common – with ways of browsing images,” he explained.
“This will help to condense the work of the analysts at IWF, so that once they’ve found some illegal images, it would help narrow their search to find others.”