Tool Thwarts Online Child Predators

TORONTO, April 7, 2005 — The Child Exploitation Tracking System (CETS) saw early success while still in beta in November 2004. The tracking system identified a link between information arising from an FBI investigation in the United States and a separate investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, known as Operation Falcon. As a result of this link, the Child Exploitation Section of the Toronto Police Service’s Sex Crimes Unit charged a man previously arrested on child-pornography charges with sexually assaulting a 4-year-old-girl, taking pornographic pictures of her and distributing them.

Microsoft Deputy General Counsel Nancy Anderson (L) and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Commissioner Guiliano Zaccardelli (R) at a news conference to announce the Child Exploitation Tracking System jointly developed by Microsoft, RCMP and the Toronto Police Service. Toronto, April 7, 2005.

CETS, a software solution built using open industry standards, assists law-enforcement officials in their work to stop the exploitation of children on the Internet by enabling effective collaboration and providing a set of advanced software tools and technologies for use by investigators. Officially launched today, CETS was developed jointly by Microsoft Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Toronto Police Service.

“Our vision is to support more effective child-exploitation policing by enabling collaboration and information sharing across police services,” says David Hemler, president of Microsoft Canada. “The tracking system will serve as a repository of information and will also be used as an investigative tool.”

Teaming of Industry and Law Enforcement

Inspector Jennifer Strachan, officer-in-charge with the RCMP’s National Child Exploitation Coordination Center, praises CETS for making linkages that have helped in the execution of warrants. She also applauds the tool’s use of SharePoint Portal Server to help track trends and post best practices. But most of all, she is optimistic about the partnering of law enforcement with industry.

“The old ways of policing won’t meet the needs of today’s cyber criminals,” Strachan says. “Industry created this environment, and Microsoft is setting a good example by realizing that with this innovation also comes accountability. Law enforcement will never be industry, and industry will never be law enforcement, but we need to keep the best interests of the people we serve in mind.”

As Strachan notes, it is difficult to look at the images of these children being exploited and not want to do something to save them. So she, like many others in law enforcement, is excited to see where CETS will take them.

“We see the excitement amongst police agencies when they realize the potential of this tool and the difference it will make in the fight against online predators,” Hemler says. “The responsibility lies with all of us to limit evil on the Internet and to protect our young people from being exploited. It is part of our duty as responsible leaders.”

CETS’s reach continues to grow as police agencies around the world show interest in using this tool.

“The international law-enforcement community is always looking for ways to stop child pornography and exploitation,” said Rich LaMagna, director of worldwide investigative and law-enforcement programs with Law and Corporate Affairs. “The international law-enforcement community has expressed strong interest in exploring this tool. CETS has got their attention as a way to have a great impact in this field.”

‘We Were Always Playing Catch-up’

The seeds for CETS were planted when Sergeant Paul Gillespie, a detective with the Toronto Police Service’s Child Exploitation Section, felt he was fighting a losing battle in his attempts to stop child exploitation online. While officers in his unit learned their way around the Internet, cyber-criminals were advancing in their ability to victimize children online, trade images and create pedophile communities, all in relative anonymity.

“It seemed like the bad guys were just getting better at conducting their work on the Internet,” Gillespie recalls. “In reality, we were not trained. And when we were given training and tools, the criminals were a step or two ahead of us. We were always playing catch-up.”

In February 2003, Gillespie decided to take matters into his own hands. In letters and e-mails, he made impassioned pleas to the Canadian federal government and corporations for help in his force’s underfunded efforts. Gillespie addressed one of his e-mails to Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chairman and chief technology architect, who passed along the e-mail to officials at Microsoft Canada. They moved quickly to work with the Toronto Police Service Sex Crimes Unit—first to understand the challenges, then to explore how Microsoft could help.

“Gillespie helped educate many of us at Microsoft Canada about how the Internet has dramatically increased the access of sex offenders to the population they seek to victimize,” Hemler says. “While child-pornography crimes are not new, the methods in which the crimes are carried out are new and are exploiting the very speed, openness and accessibility we all like as features of the Internet.”

‘A Great Tool for Information Management’

Microsoft Canada went to work creating CETS by applying some of its best software engineers to the task of combining XML-based Web services with Microsoft Visual Studio .NET, Windows SharePoint Services and SQL Server. The solution enables police agencies to capture, share and search information from the point of detection through to the investigative phase, arrest and offender management.

Detective Sergeant Paul Gillespie, Toronto Police Service, Child Exploitation Section. Click image for high-res version.

“CETS is a great tool for information management,” says Corporal Garry Belair, technology manager with the RCMP’s National Child Exploitation Coordination Center. “CETS puts together the work of hundreds of police agencies in one place. The tool can establish links from the different agencies that police wouldn’t necessarily make.”

Belair’s division of the RCMP supports, houses and maintains CETS as a central database tool that is embraced by more than 25 forces across Canada. Thanks to the suggestions of investigators in the development process, CETS enables agencies to avoid duplicate effort. Sharing information over a secure network, officers can match up investigations that reference the same people or online identities.

“We spent several months meeting with the different police agencies to learn what issues they faced and to see how Microsoft can help,” says John Hancock, senior consultant with Microsoft Canada. “We discovered that a lot of the work police agencies were doing was in isolation. What they needed was a tracking system that would not repeat information but link and connect criminal behavior online that is difficult for the human eye to see.”

Using CETS, police agencies can manage and analyze huge volumes of information in powerful new ways, such as cross-referencing obscure data relationships and using social-network analysis to identify communities of offenders.

“CETS has helped police catch up with cyber-criminals on the Internet,” Gillespie says. “The product has exceeded my wildest dreams. I have also been impressed by Microsoft Canada and their passion to do the right thing. I am overwhelmed with their sense of responsibility.”

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