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US.gov builds huge child porn database

Wouldn't be allowed in UK

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A huge database system designed to find sexually abused children is under development in the US. But legal restrictions mean that the project is unlikely to be replicated in the UK.

The US Justice's Department Child Victim Identification Program will include a catalogue of thousands of illicit pictures seized from suspects and collected from the Web. This could make the Justice Department the "owner of the world's largest collection of child pornography, AP reports. This database represents an attempt to link images of abuse with the names of victims and the date of abuse.

The system creates a fingerprint system of indecent images which will allow investigators to determine if images seized are the subject of previous cases. Image recognition software will be used to match new pictures with previously referenced images. It is hoped the system will make it easier for police to identify and locate sexually abused children.

The database cannot be directly browsed. And only pictures linked to a particular investigation can be viewed at any one time. Police won't have direct access to victims' identities, either. In the case of possible matches, investigators will be given only contact details for a particular investigating officer.

These measures are designed to stop abuse from unscrupulous law enforcement agents and attempts by crackers to break into the system and steal indecent images. However, the more joined-up such database systems become, the greater the potential for misuse and abuse.

UK laws preventing the exchange of indecent images, for whatever purpose, mean the system (or something similar) is unlikely to be used in Britain.

Security expert Neil Barrett, who has advised the police in numerous Internet paedophilia inquiries, said: "swapping pictures backwards and forwards is illegal in the UK. The law does not provide an exception for police."

In the UK a checksum is of captured images is obtained. It is this data, and not images, which is exchanged between law enforcement agencies in Europe to see if an image has been the subject of a previous prosecution. Europol administers the scheme, used by police to assess the strength of evidence obtained during an inquiry.

Barrett believes the European system is preferable not least because of the risk of images being intercepted - which he believes is inherent in the US system. ®

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