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Partners fight child porn

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AMES, ANN MARIE
July 16, 2012

— A Clinton man faces 250 years in prison for 10 images of child pornography that police investigators say they found on his computer.

He is not allowed to use a computer other than for work while his case is pending in court.

A Janesville man is out on bond while his case winds through Rock County Court. He faces charges of possession of child pornography and is not allowed to contact children or use the Internet.

Both men were arrested because they offered to share child pornography from their computers, according to police.

Investigators from the Wisconsin Department of Justice or the Rock County Sheriff's Office intercepted the images and traced their sources.

Searching for such images is one of the responsibilities of investigators on Wisconsin's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and its partner agencies. The Rock County Sheriff's Office and several local police departments are among the 177 partnering agencies in the state.

Partner agencies agree to use the task force's policies when investigating and prosecuting cases and when providing information to the public. The state can provide investigative support to the agencies because most agencies don't have investigators dedicated solely to Internet crimes against children.

Created in 1998, Wisconsin's task force was one of the first in the nation, said Jenniffer Price, special agent in charge of the state Department of Justice computer forensics unit. Every state now has such a task force, and some have more than one, she said.

Investigators search for illegal images and respond to complaints from agencies or residents, Price said. The unit provides backup for departments around the state that can't afford a dedicated computer forensics investigator. They investigate allegations of child pornography as well as cases in which adults are suspected of using the Internet to find and meet children for sex.

State investigators work reactive and proactive cases, Price said.

Reactively, they respond to complaints from police, parents, social workers or federal investigators.

The amount of proactive work investigators can handle depends on the number of complaints.

"We find ourselves reactive much more than we would like to react," Price said. "With the amount of complaints and the staffing shortage we have on the statewide level, it's difficult for local law enforcement to dedicate an agent to this 100 percent."

When possible, investigators search peer-to-peer exchanges of child pornography. No search warrant is needed to initiate such a search because investigators initially are not searching remotely for files on a person's computer.

"In these types of cases, (offending) individuals are putting themselves online," Price said. "We're merely looking at what they're putting out there."

Police are trained to identify electronic files that are likely illegal images of children. Police intercept the images and trace their sources through Internet service providers to home or office computers.

Finding child pornography on someone's computer is not always an indicator that the person has or would physically molest children, Price said. Wisconsin has not researched the issue, but in federal prisons, large numbers of people incarcerated for possession of child pornography also are "hands-on" offenders, she said.

"The basic answer is, 'Yes, there is some correlation,'" Price said. "Does that mean every individual who possesses child pornography also creates it? No. But what do they both have in common? A sexual interest in children."

The state's forensic examiners do more than investigate complaints of child pornography, Price said. They investigate any kind of crime in which a computer might have been involved.

"Because the bulk of their caseload is child exploitation, it seems like they are child porn investigators," Price said. "But we will take any case."

The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force has four primary directives, Price said. Investigation and computer forensics are two. Another is prosecution.

When illegal images or activity are confirmed, state investigators provide the information to local police, who could write a search warrant, seize computers or other electronic equipment or make arrests.

State investigators work with local district attorneys or through a liaison at the Wisconsin Attorney General's Office, Price said.

In addition to finding and prosecuting Internet crimes against children, the task force works to educate children and parents about Internet safety.

Two Department of Justice staff members travel to schools to talk about Internet safety, Price said. In addition, the task force partners with Boys & Girls Clubs across the state to deliver educational materials, she said.

Internet safety is a vast topic that parents of today's preteens and teens didn't have to deal with when they were children, Price said.

"We can determine a zone of safety for our children when they're outside playing," Price said. "We can't determine that same zone when they're online."



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