updated 06:09 am EDT, Mon August 4, 2014
Google tipped NCMEC, police over potential child pornography images
Google has aided in the arrest of a registered sex offender, caught by the scanning of files stored in his Gmail account. A tip from Google to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) over potential illegal content led to Houston police obtaining a search warrant, with law enforcement later finding more evidence and arresting the individual.
"He was trying to get around getting caught, he was trying to keep it inside his e-mail," advised Detective David Nettles of the Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce to KHOU. "I can't see that information, I can't see that photo, but Google can."
While the case does throw up issues privacy advocates may frown upon, especially considering the Snowden disclosures, Business Insider suggests Google may not have actually looked at the contents of the files in question, by the use of "Hashing." Characteristics of files containing known illegal content are noted and stored on a database, effectively allowing Google's servers to recognize the file again at a later time without needing an employee to check the file. Google declined to comment to the report about its methods.
It is also believed that Google did not have any choice over whether or not to advise law enforcement of its findings, as a number of federal and state laws compel technology companies to do so if they find child pornography. Google has also been fairly active in its efforts to fight such imagery online. A company blog post advises it has been "fighting exploitation" since 2006 and has been using "hashing" technology since 2008, with the search company not only working with others on technical solutions to the issue, but also contributing millions of dollars towards the work.
Previously convicted in 1994 for sexually assaulting an 8-year-old boy, John Skillern has been charged with the possession and the promotion of child pornography, and is being held on a $200,000 bond.