Computer Crime Research Center


Internet fuels child porn trafficking - and child porn arrests

Date: January 16, 2005
By: David B. Caruso

PHILADELPHIA - Once unnoticed by society, pedophiles who traffic in child pornography have come out into the open on the Internet over the past decade, and law enforcement agents have pounced.

Federal prosecutions for child pornography offenses have surged from 61 in 1994 to 739 in 2002, according to the Department of Justice. The FBI said its cyber-crime investigators went from handling 113 child porn cases in fiscal 1996 to handling 2,645 in fiscal 2004.

The primary reason for the increase, law enforcement officials said, is that the Net has made it easier than ever for pedophiles to exchange pictures and movies of exploited children.

But the surge in prosecutions is also being fueled by the flip side of the new technology: It has also made it easier for authorities to identify and capture child porn traffickers.

Hundreds of suspects have been identified by investigators scanning online chat rooms while posing as children or collectors of illicit images.

Authorities now routinely use Internet Service Provider records to decode the identities of supposedly anonymous computer users who post child porn on Web sites or newsgroups. The government also maintains databases of seized images to see if illegal pictures turning up on the Internet are newly produced.

"The Internet has given us a vehicle to track and identify these people that we never had before," said Letitia Jones, supervisory special agent of the FBI's cyber crimes squad in Philadelphia.

One of the latest offenders to be caught in a technological trap is William Burnham, a nurse from Warminster, Pa., who pleaded guilty Jan. 10 to charges that he transmitted child pornography across state lines.

The simple sting that led to his arrest is one that has been repeated hundreds of times nationwide in recent years.

Prosecutors said Burnham, who worked at an institution for developmentally disabled children, was cruising an Internet chat room while posing as a 15-year-old boy when he crossed paths (electronically) with an undercover detective in Keene, N.H. who, in turn, was masquerading as a 14-year-old boy.

Burnham electronically sent the detective more than two dozen pictures of children engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Investigators identified him through America Online and records, then searched his apartment and found hundreds of child porn videotapes and more than 4,000 images stored on compact discs.

The circumstances that led to Burnham's arrest might have been nonexistent before the Internet. He might not have had access to child pornography, or if he did, authorities might have had no way of knowing.

Michelle Collins, director of the exploited child unit at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said that if someone had a sexual interest in a child in the 1980s, they had to take the risk of asking someone for it in person.

"Now, it is as easy as sitting in your basement with a bag of chips and a soda," she said. "The $20,000 question is, 'Is this technology, and the ease and anonymity of material, creating or feeding desires that weren't there before?' We don't know."

Burnham is likely to face prison time when he is sentenced in April.

The average prison sentence for someone convicted of a federal child pornography charge has risen from about 3 1/2 years in 1994, to 5 1/4 years in 2002, according to the Department of Justice.

Punishment can be harsher for people convicted of creating new pornography, rather than simply circulating old images.

In late December, a Northampton County judge sentenced Joseph Eisenhauer, of Pen Argyl, to serve three to 21 years in state prison for using the Internet to send pictures of nude children to an undercover policeman, and for videotaping a 10-year-old girl as she undressed.

Eisenhauer will never serve the term. He hanged himself in his cell on Jan. 9.

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