Saturday, February 25, 2012

By the numbers!

Good Day Readers:

We first became aware of Mr. Horgan's writing from his January 6, 2012 iPolitics article in which he took to task one of our "favourite" Senators Mike Duffy for certain "insightful" comments he'd made about Twitter:

Twitter seems so terribly banal I feel no motivation to take part in profound conversations of 140 characters or meaningless drivel, " ..... is a reflection of the people who do it ..... Part of the function of age is our sense of ourselves and where we fit in the world. It's for a young generation."
By the time Colin Horgan had finished he'd surgically dismantled Mike Duffy leaving him in pieces on the Senate floor where he belongs. You'll notice the good Senator has been silent on the subject since. 

But of course CyberSmokeblog had to chime in with it's two sense worth offering that Mr. Duffy should shut his face and listen for a change especially concerning a subject about which he obviously knows nothing. We also reminded him of recent words from a Member of Parliament. To paraphrase, "Politicians who become arrogant and do not listen to those who elected them will quickly find themselves out in the cold on their arses. Canadians are not stupid."

Mr. Horgan not only has a very good writing touch but the man does his homework as you'll see from his latest article we found buried near the bottom of iPolitics' main page. It deserves much, much more recognition. The man is good - he is very good.

We beg to differ, however, with one small point in the Horgan article. Given today's announcement by the hacker group Anonymous the furor over Vic Toews beyond asinine comments may be far from over especially come a week from now if "Twitter" the cat is let out of the bag. Perhaps "Twitter" should be renamed "Vikileaks."
"Twitter" meets Vikileaks

What the Harper government lead principally by Messrs Towes and Nicholson has managed to do is reminiscent of McCarthyism of the late 1940s to late 1950 during which time Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy (Wisconsin) chaired The House Un-American Activities hearings that were attached to various anti-communist activities spearheaded by the FBI. One would have thought there was a "pinko" under every bed.

Fast forward to today. Isn't it "deja vu all over again" (.....Yogi Berra) wherein the Harper government is trying to scare us into thinking there's a child pornographer or criminal under every bed so we'll suppor Bills C-30 and 51 which, in reality, are substantial overkill? The Horgan article is the first we've encountered that attempts to apply numbers to the issue.

Clare L. Pieuk
How many online child porn cases are there anyway?
By Colin Horgan
Friday, February 24, 2012
The discussion over C-30, the contentious lawful access bill the government proposed and that subsequently led to a visceral online backlash against Public Safety Minister Vic Toews (including the now infamous @Vikileaks30 Twitter account that took to publicizing the details of Toews’ divorce) has calmed down this week. Yet, even when it was raging, the meat of the phrase that really set the whole thing off – that the opposition, who took issue with the content of the bill could either “stand with us or with the child pornographers” – was left mostly by the wayside as the debate veered into a discussion on the tone of the rhetoric employed on both sides.

It all left a lot of questions still to be answered about how, exactly, the law is enforced online and what methods are used to do that, and, of course, the actual frequency of online child pornography.
To address the second question first: How much child pornography is being uncovered online by Canadian law enforcement?

It’s not as simple a statistic to present as perhaps Toews’ comments have suggested during the C-30 discussion, or other times when he’s mentioned protecting Canada’s youth from child pornography in the House on other crime-related topics during question period.

First of all, there’s a difference between communicating with a child online for the purpose of committing a sexual offence (child luring) and actual child pornography. An amendment was only made in 2002 to the Canadian Criminal Code to account for child luring, and more is uncovered every year as both police departments and technology adapts. That was also the same year amendments were made to the definition of child pornography to include using the internet as a way to commit offences. So the data we can get only goes back about a decade, and comes with a few caveats, as you’ll see in a minute.

In March 2009, Statistics Canada released a study on child luring. Here’s what they had to say at that point:
In the most recent two-year period, 2006 to 2007, a total of 464 incidents of child luring were reported by police services across Canada. This figure represents an average of about 3 incidents of child luring per 100,000 youth under the age of 18, reported to police per year. […]
Increases in the number of child luring incidents coming to the attention of police follow heightened efforts to raise awareness of child luring. For example, subsequent to the introduction of the new legislation on child luring, the National Strategy to Protect Children from Sexual Exploitation on the Internet was established in 2004 to help expand resources to combat online child sexual exploitation.
I asked the folks over at the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics for some more concrete numbers and they were able to provide a few tables that I thought I’d share here. The original tables they provided included more information than I’ve copied for these purposes – for instance, how many of those charged were male (most) or female and the number of youth who were charged with these kinds of offences. (I’m happy to pass those on to those who email me, but for providing a simple glance at the instances of both offences in question, I felt this would suffice.)
First, incidents of child luring since 2003:

Via the CCJS, there’s a note to be recognized when examining this data. It’s here:
In April 2002, the Criminal Code of Canada was amended to include new offences making it illegal to communicate with children over the Internet for the purpose of committing a sexual offence. It is difficult to ascertain whether the increase in these child luring offences reported to police is the result of increased efforts to raise public awareness, or of other factors such as advances in police efforts to capture online predators, or of an actual increase in the number of child luring incidents. Therefore, comparisons over time should be made with caution.
Here’s a chart of incidents of child pornography:

Again, from the CCJS:
NOTE: In 2002, legislative changes were made to include the use of the Internet for the purpose of committing child pornography offences. As such, comparisons over time should be made with caution. The UCR violation of Child Pornography includes possession of child pornography, accessing child pornography, as well as making and distributing child pornography.
So, instances of online child porn and luring appear to be increasing, but those numbers are dependent on a number of changing factors, including the way various individuals or groups (police, private companies, ISPs) are developing new approaches to the technology.

On that last point, another question that arose from the debate on C-30 was whether it was absolutely necessary (not to mention how much it might cost) to require companies operating online to hand over information without a warrant, as the legislation seemed to suggest when it was presented. Last week, Toews’ office sent around a few examples to the media of instances where, the suggestion was, solutions would have come about faster had the legislation being proposed been in effect. In two of the three situations Toews’ office provided, service providers were noted as being initially reluctant to hand over user data to the police. However, in both cases, the providers in question did just that, and eventually a fraudster and a suspect in a child abduction case were caught.

Part of the argument the government made with regard to C-30 was that it would help law enforcement officials accentuate their abilities to find nefarious individuals online. That’s probably worth examining, but just as much, it’s worth remembering that private companies are taking on some of that responsibility already.

That kind of proactive monitoring is highlighted in this piece from an upcoming issue of Forbes magazine where writer Kashmir Hill talks with the head of security at Facebook, Joe Sullivan. Facebook is not a service provider, but it is a company to which law enforcement turns more and more to obtain information about individuals, and Facebook posts have been used as evidence in a few court cases. The overview Hill writes provides an example of how companies are already implementing changes and working to guard against things like child pornography.

While the instances discussed in the piece (along with the legal frameworks) are American, there are a few parts of it that are worth highlighting in the context of Canada’s ongoing privacy debate – not to mention protections against online child pornography.
From Forbes:
The company gives law enforcement “basic subscriber information” on requests accompanied by subpoenas: a user’s name, e-mail address and IP address (which reveals approximate location). Sullivan insists that everything else—photos, status updates, private messages, friend lists, group memberships, pokes and all the rest—requires a warrant.
That provision is outlined in Facebook’s data use policy, which also mentions its general approach to responding to legal requests. Here’s what that data use policy says in full (emphasis added):
We may share your information in response to a legal request (like a search warrant, court order or subpoena) if we have a good faith belief that the law requires us to do so. This may include responding to legal requests from jurisdictions outside of the United States where we have a good faith belief that the response is required by law in that jurisdiction, affects users in that jurisdiction, and is consistent with internationally recognized standards. We may also share information when we have a good faith belief it is necessary to: detect, prevent and address fraud and other illegal activity; to protect ourselves and you from violations of our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities; and to prevent death or imminent bodily harm.
In her piece, Hill describes an instance where Facebook’s own work pointed out a potential pedophile:
The site employs algorithms to detect suspicious behavior and bring it to the attention of Sullivan’s group. “We found that a youth pastor and children’s sports coach in Indiana was using fake accounts to try to engage with kids on our site,” he says. “So we called the FBI in Indiana and sent them his information.” […]
Last year Facebook adopted a Microsoft program called PhotoDNA, which scans every picture uploaded to the site to see if it matches known child porn images compiled by the FBI’s National Crime Information Center. “Our list of child porn images is actually much longer than the FBI’s,” says Sullivan. “Every time we find something new—through a user report or flagging on a keyword—we manually review the user album to see if there are other images that should be added to the list, and then we add them to our library. We’re exploring how to share our library with others.”


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