What It's Like To Fight Washington State's Massive Child Porn Problem | KUOW News and Information

What It's Like To Fight Washington State's Massive Child Porn Problem

Dec 28, 2015

17,000.

That’s the number of seats in the Key Arena – and the number of people believed to be trading child porn right now in Washington state.

Prosecutors say it’s so tough to keep up with technology – and then build successful cases – that they’re always playing defense.

“We just don't have enough agents that are able to … do anything beyond responding to the barrage of information we're getting from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children,” King County prosecutor Cecelia Gregson told KUOW’s Jeannie Yandel.

Gregson, also a special assistant U.S. attorney, says 99 percent of her cases come through cybertips collected by that center. They’re generated by Internet service providers and people who see something suspect online – it could be an image, it could be an exchange on social media involving a minor.

First step is to locate the suspect IP address – then comes the tough task of finding and prosecuting these child pornographers.

“For the detectives and the agents, it’s not just like they get the cybertips and there's one search warrant to the residence and we get the evidence we need and then I can prosecute someone,” she said. “I recently had one where we were on our eighth warrant because the person was moving around.”

Then there are legal technical issues.

“Every Internet service provider does things a little differently,” she said. “They all have their own special lingo for what they want us to say in our warrant so that we're capturing the right data from them and they're not violating any customer's rights.”

Gregson said investigators and prosecutors also have to look at a lot of disturbing images – and that takes a toll.

“It takes a high cost on that person's health and wellbeing,” Gregson said.

She says she has personal rules “that help me maintain my sanity.” On a recent day, she spent five hours reviewing images.

“I was burned out by the end of that day,” she said. “It just takes a lot out of you.”

So why pursue such a devastating field of law? Gregson, a mom, says she does it for the kids.

“Every time that we end up getting a child out of the house – and that happens a lot – it does make you feel really good and you've hopefully impacted that child's life in a measurable way,” she said. “That keeps you going for sure.”

Technology companies have enlisted in the fight.

Microsoft’s PhotoDNA software, made widely available in the cloud this summer, is being used to comb through the billions of images to identify those involving crimes against children. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the chat network Kik are among the users. Facebook is another.

Dropbox, a popular photo and video sharing service, is credited with helping authorities build a number of child porn cases.

But Gregson also says parents must monitor their children’s use of cell phones and social media.

“Parents simply forget that cell phones are devices. And we hand our kids cell phones and we tell them not to talk to strangers and that really doesn't cut the mustard,” she said. “The reality is those kids don't think people they've met online are strangers.”

What can you do to fight child porn? Some resources:

Report a tip to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: 1.800.843.5678 or www.cybertipline.com

Get answers to questions about Internet safety: http://www.netsmartz411.org/

Federal Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program: http://www.ojjdp.gov/programs/progsummary.asp?pi=3

Cecelia Gregson, second from right, receives the Chief's Award from Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole in January for her work on child exploitation cases. At left is Capt. Mike Edward. At right is Gregson's boss, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.
Credit Seattle Police Department