Science & Technology Law

Police: WiFi Enables Child Porn Users

  • Print

In miracles of modern technology, cell phone transmission records can locate lost users and provide evidence to suggest alleged criminals were—or were not—at the scenes of their crimes. Cameras record practically everything that happens in public in London. And radio speakers reportedly installed by the government in every home in the relatively privileged capital city of the Third World country of North Korea provide a 24/7 stream of propaganda that can be turned down but not turned off.

However, child pornographers can use the Internet to buy and sell their wares with virtual impunity, as long as they do so from a wireless Internet site at a building open to the public, a hotel, a college campus, or even by bootlegging an unsuspecting neighbor’s service, according to the Modesto Bee.

The problem is, providers are not required to keep records of who uses their service and what Web sites they visit— many don’t want to, the California newspaper reports. The city of St. Cloud, Fla., an Orlando suburb, offers free wireless to its 30,000 residents. While users must register, the addresses of the Internet pages they surf are not retained. “We’re not tracking anything,” says Howard DeYoung, St. Cloud’s information chief. “We didn’t want the local residents here to get the idea that Big Brother is watching or anything like that. Our free wireless is unrestricted.”

Even if providers did have to retain such data, sifting through it to pinpoint child porn offenders would be a daunting task. “It’s definitely a challenge,” says Flint Waters, a Wyoming State Police investigator. He recently showed a reporter at a Washington, D.C., cafe that some 165 child pornographers in at least five countries were then surfing the Net, according to his data-mining program.

In addition to privacy concerns and questions about how effective it would be, anyway, to try to police child porn through records of individual Internet use, opponents of requiring records retention point to the cost of doing so. “Everyone wants to protect the children, and yet there are other big questions,” says Janine Hiller, a professor at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.