Friday, April 18, 2008

Are We Ready For A Nationwide P2P Monitoring System

If Senator Joe Biden, a democrat from Delaware, has his way we might have to be. His new plan for combating kiddie porn on the internet would seek to do just that.

It’s “pretty easy to pick out the person engaged in either transmitting or downloading violent scenes of rape, molestation,” said Biden, because all you have to do is look at the filenames. He cites a piece of software, known as “Operation Fairplay,” which currently sees use around the world and at regional Internet Crimes Against Children task forces in the U.S.

Operation Fairplay is a “comprehensive computer infrastructure” that gives law enforcement officers a view of the “big picture” of child pornography transfers around the country. Biden says Special Agent Flint Waters of the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office developed the program, and describes him as an expert in the field.

Based on Waters' statements to the Senate Judiciary subcommittee, the system appears to work like this: Investigators log onto peer-to-peer file-sharing networks as any other person would and search for files containing certain keywords that are likely to indicate child pornography is involved. Then they download the files--frequently videos, sometimes as long as 20 to 30 minutes, with names like "children kiddy underage illegal.mpg" and much more obscene--to their own machines. They're able to use the Fairplay software to obtain the IP address of the file's sender and, in some cases, display its geographic location in map form.

Once armed with an IP address and date and time of the download, investigators can subpoena the Internet service provider for more information, such as name and address of the subscriber who was assigned it at that moment. "It's not necessarily the suspect but it tells us the physical location to start," Waters said. (He didn't say whether any wiretaps were conducted to monitor ongoing file swapping.)

Fairplay is also capable of tracking the files themselves, monitoring where a file goes by its hashcode – often generated by the P2P client itself as a means of identifying identical files with different filenames.

According to Biden, the FBI’s “Innocent Images” unit only has 32 investigators working on the case – allowing the agency to tackle less than 2 percent of what he calls “known” cases of child pornography tracking on the internet. As a result, Biden is pushing the “Combating Child Exploitation Act,” which would authorize over $1 billion, spent over the next eight years, to hire an additional 250 agents for the child pornography unit and increase child pornography enforcement worldwide. “We can get our arms around it, the worst aspect of it,” said Biden, “if we provide the resources.”

Biden’s stance is unique in that he isn’t directly opposed to P2P as a whole, recognizing the technology’s use in legal situations. “Blaming this problem on peer-to-peer innovation,” he said, “is like blaming the interstate highway system when someone uses it to transport drugs.”

Senator Biden has pushed for passage of a bill known as the Combating Child Exploitation Act. It would authorize more than $1 billion over the next eight years to hire 250 new federal agents devoted to Internet crimes against children, provide additional funding to regional computer forensics labs, and give out more federal grants to the regional Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task forces. The House of Representatives passed a companion bill in October.

More reading

My thoughts

I'm not against tracking and catching internet predators, nor do I condone child porn, I think its relatively sick and twisted, however tracking someone down and accusing them of being involved in these activities based solely on a filename is something I won't agree on. My long standing opposition to any type of net censorship, tracking ect aside, focusing law enforcement time and resources to track someone just for having a file with a "sensitive" name really borders on civil infringements.

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