The FBI's Online Child Pornography/Child Sexual Exploitation Investigations
he Innocent Images National Initiative (IINI), a component of the FBI's cybercrimes program, is an intelligence-driven, proactive, multiagency investigative initiative to combat the proliferation of child pornography and the child sexual exploitation facilitated by online computers. The IINI provides centralized coordination and analysis of case information that by its nature is national and international in scope, requiring unprecedented coordination with local, state, and world governments.
Today, computer telecommunications have become one of the most prevalent techniques used by pedophiles to share illegal photographic images of minors and to lure children into illicit sexual relationships. The Internet has dramatically increased the access of the preferential sex offenders to the populations they seek to victimize and provides them greater access to a community of people who validate their sexual preferences.
The mission of the IINI is to
- identify, investigate, and prosecute sexual predators who use the Internet and other online services to sexually exploit children;
- identify and rescue witting and unwitting child victims; and
- establish a law enforcement presence on the Internet as a deterrent to subjects who exploit children.
The Growth of Cases
In the last several years, the FBI, local and state law enforcement, and the public have developed an increased awareness of the online child pornography and sexual exploitation problem. Between 1996 and 2002 there was a 1,997 percent increase in the number of IINI cases opened (113 to 2,370) in the FBI. It is anticipated that the crime problem will continue to rise.
The increase in Innocent Images investigations demonstrated the need for a mechanism to track subject transactions and to correlate the seemingly unrelated activities of thousands of subjects in cyberspace. As a result, the Innocent Images case management system was developed and has proven to be an effective system to archive and retrieve the information necessary to identify and target priority subjects. All relevant data obtained during an undercover session is loaded into the Innocent Images case management system where it is updated, reviewed, and analyzed daily to identify priority subjects.
IINI undercover operations are being conducted in several FBI field offices by task forces that combine the resources of the FBI with those of other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. IINI training is provided to all law enforcement personnel involved in these investigations. In addition, the IINI investigations are also coordinated with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces, which are funded by the Department of Justice.
Commercial online service providers provide numerous easily accessible "chat rooms" in which teenagers and preteens can meet and converse with each other. By using chart rooms, children can chat for hours with unknown persons, often without their parents' knowledge or approval. Investigation revealed that computer-sex offenders use the chat rooms to contact children, as a child does not know whether he or she is chatting with another child or an adult. Chat rooms offer the advantage of immediate communication around the world and provide the pedophile with an anonymous means of identifying and recruiting children into sexually illicit relationships.
Innocent Images has now expanded its investigations to involve these and other commonly used areas of the Internet and online services to exploit children:
- Chat rooms
- Internet Web sites that post child pornography
- Internet newsgroups
- Internet relay chat (IRC) channels
- File servers ("FServes")
- Bulletin board systems (BBSs)
- Peer-to-peer (P2P) file transfer programs
FBI agents and task force officers go online undercover into predicated locations using fictitious screen names and engaging in real-time chat or E-mail conversations with subjects to obtain evidence of criminal activity. Investigations of specific online locations can be initiated through local law enforcement or complaints from Internet service providers or citizens.
For more information contact the crimes against children program coordinator at the local FBI field office or the FBI Innocent Images National Initiative Unit, FBI Headquarters, Room 5842, 935 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20535 USA.
From The Police Chief, vol. 70, no. 12, December 2003. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.