Hacker techniques are now employed in the battle against child porn

Those who receive and/or transmit pornographic images of children often use sophisticated software designed to hide their location. In order to try and stay one step ahead, law enforcement authorities are always looking for ways to break through, and uncover what firewalls are used to hide or disguise criminal activity. Wired Magazine recently reported on what cyber security experts call a "drive-by download." That download refers to situations where a hacker (in this case, police investigators) can infiltrate a high-traffic website, then deliver malware to every single visitor there . The FBI was so impressed with this particular hacker technique that it is now experimenting with drive-by hacks as a solution to identifying and prosecuting those who use various cyber tricks to keep their IP address anonymous.

The drive-by download technique is expected to be employed against those who receive or send child pornography images via the Internet. Reportedly, there have already been arrests for possession of child pornography utilizing this new, powerful investigative tool. The drive-by download is only one of a multitude of increasingly sophisticated tools the government uses in its ever continuing war against internet pornography. Last year, Scientific American reported on powerful new software being developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory engineers to identify and locate those who exchange pornographic images of children via the Internet.

Significant resources are expended by both state and federal authorities (including the FBI, Homeland Security, and various combined State and Federal task forces, in attempting to locate those who they believe are exploiting children via the Internet. The investigations, of course, most commonly lead to the arrest of those possessing and sharing via file share programs (which is +5 Distribution under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines), but also intensely focus upon those cases involving the actual photographers, and those trafficking in children. The Iowa Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force notes that Iowa state and local law enforcement authorities work closely with federal authorities to ferret out those allegedly involved in receiving, sending, or producing child porn images. As proof of its efforts, the ICAC website features press releases touting the stiff sentences meted out to Iowans successfully prosecuted for child pornography.

Consequences of conviction

It is a federal and state crime if the internet is used for receiving, sending or producing child porn images. Harvard Law School Professor Carol Steiker observes that federal child pornography mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines have been rather controversial. The controversy stems from the fact that the sentencing guidelines do not appear to take into account the difference between commercial producers and distributors of child pornography and those who merely download child porn in order to view it. Many people who merely view pornographic images of children may get a lengthy prison sentence even though they have never personally abused children. The trend in most jurisdictions is for shorter sentences, because of the harshness of the Guidelines which are only advisory, but which used to be closely followed by judges. An example of just how unfair the Guidelines were always interpreted is the assessment of a two- level increase for the use of a computer during the commission of the computer crime, believe it or not! In Iowa, there is still a major split with the Northern and Southern federal districts, and even within the Sioux City vs. the Cedar Rapids locations within the Northern District as to how harsh or lenient any sentence is.

Under federal law, child porn offenses carry steep criminal penalties. Between 1997 and 2007, the average sentence for child porn offenders increased from 20 months to 91 months-an increase of over 400 percent. First-time offenders who send or receive child pornography via the Internet face a mandatory minimum sentence of five years with a maximum sentence as high as 20 years. First-time offenders convicted of producing child porn images face a statutory minimum of 15 years in prison with the maximum being 30 years. An offender with prior child porn convictions could receive life imprisonment. For updates with each Federal District's sentencing statistics call the office and speak with Peter Berger at 515-288-8888; and/or watch for a follow-up article about recent sentencing trends and statistics.

Seek legal help

It is a serious matter whenever an Iowa resident, or anyone from another state, faces charges of having committed a sex crime, which includes child pornography, because even when photos are "just" viewed, a child somewhere was victimized. These charges have the potential to destroy one's reputation, injure one's family and cause employment problems, not to mention having to go through treatment and register as a sex offender. And, of course, conviction could lead to a lengthy prison sentence. Often, defenses are available to sex crime charges that could lead to a reduction of the charges, potential refer to State Court, or possibly their dismissal. If child pornography charges have been leveled against you, you need to contact an Iowa attorney with experience in handling sex crime cases.