Over the past 20 years, as awareness and reporting of child pornography crimes have increased, law enforcement agencies and courts have been tasked with identifying, investigating, and prosecuting individuals involved in the child pornography indus- try—from producers and distributors to collectors and consumers. Criminal justice officials have been forced to adapt to technological innovations that afford offenders greater, easier, faster, and more secretive access to child pornography. As offenders become more tech-savvy, law enforcement agencies must continuously fine-tune their investigative practices and procedures. As well, courts must engage in an ongoing review process to ensure the constitutionality of their procedures of search and seizure of evidence, standards of proof, and sentencing of offenders. In this section, the investigation, prosecution, and sentencing of child pornographers are examined more closely.

Investigating Child Pornography

Prior to the advent of the Internet, policing authorities were able to investigate child pornography crimes similar to the investigation for other types of crime. Traditional search and seizure, sting operations, and child pornography busts were typical methods for managing this type of crime. U.S. Customs special agents were able to seize books and magazines with pornographic child images and prevent them from entering the country via U.S. mail and commercial parcel services. Police even were able to infiltrate offender networks using computers and modems to communicate and exchange information on victims. By the early 1990s, the threat of child pornography was believed to have been successfully contained. As we have learned, the Internet has facilitated the return and exponential expansion of child pornography.

Child pornography is now a largely digital and virtual industry both nationally and internationally. Offenders are no longer collecting and transmitting photographs, videotapes, and magazines, but rather sending virtual images through complex peer-to-peer networks. This crime now falls almost exclusively into the realm of cyber crime. The rapid evolution of child pornography crimes has required police to become more technologically savvy and adaptive. Policing child pornography is difficult for three primary reasons: (1) the sheer volume of available illegal material is so vast that it is nearly impossible to determine the full extent of the problem, (2) the lack of reporting limits the number of leads and clues available to initiate an investigation, requiring almost exclusively proactive measures, and

(3) the advanced technological expertise necessary to target these crimes usually comes at a high price that is not within the limited resources of many police agencies. It has been found that setting up specialized task forces in police departments is crucial for targeting child pornography crimes (Marcum, Higgins, Ricketts, & Frei- burger, 2011).

Computer forensics, which involves the assessment of computers and computer- related media for evidence of crimes, has become necessary for detecting child pornography crimes. This is a very complex and technical process, so we only cover a brief overview of the procedures employed in criminal investigations of child pornography crimes. Computer-forensic examinations involve three basic steps:

  • 1. Acquisition: Investigators must acquire electronic information on a computer or computer media and make an exact physical copy (or "mirror image") of all data on the hard drive to preserve the data exactly as they existed at the time of seizure.
  • 2. Authentication: Investigators must ensure that the mirrored image and the original computer media are identical. This is often accomplished using complex forensics software programs that can verify the precision of the mirrored content.
  • 3. Recovery: Investigators view and analyze the acquired data, in addition to hidden files with renamed file extensions, deleted files, and temporary Internet files from the computer's cache. Additionally, investigators learn extensive information about a suspect's browsing history, including particular websites visited, the duration of those visits, and any downloading activity.
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