Friday, December 22, 2017

Cloud services now seem to be checking consumers for watermarked child pornography images; an invitation to hackers?


Last night, television station WJLA7 in Washington mentioned a story in which a former sheriff’s deputy (Charles County MD, SE of Washington DC) had apparently been prosecuted for possession of child pornography. The only online story dates back to 2016, here

But the story was interesting because this time it was announced that the person had been caught by a data cloud service.  This appears to have been related to images on his smartphone.

This is the first time I can recall a data cloud service reporting a consumer to authorities, based on cooperation with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria VA.  This process must have occurred by automatically checking backed up images for known digital watermarks in the NCMEC database.  Google has in the past checked Gmail attachments for this and in one case a Houston TX man was arrested.

Whatever one’s moral outrage over the issue, in practice consumers who use any cloud backup service for their PC’s, laptops or phones should be aware that this possibility now exists.  I would be concerned that devices could be hacked with c.p. placed deliberately in order to get people framed for crimes, as part of retaliation or harassment or terror-related campaigns.

A related problem is what makes an image fit the legal definition of c.p.   We’ve heard of cases where parents were arrested after turning on photo film for development of pictures of their kids, and the pictures were notices by clerks (and this sounds a bit like the Best Buy issue recently discussed).  I found even in some old family film of me as a child with some nude footage that I had removed before I posted it, out of this “fear”, even though I know that my parents had no prurient interest when they took this film in the 1940s, when no one was thinking this way.  The fact that one would follow through this line of thought has some implications: maybe an image that is not completely nude would be viewed as c.p. of capable of inducing arousal in the viewer.  There could be risks in possessing copies of foreign explicit films where the same rules (requiring registry of actors to make sure they are over 18) might not have been followed.  Federal law for images in the US has a minimum age of 18 regardless of state laws on age of consent (often lower) or European country laws (often lower). 
  
It’s pretty easy to imagine that the sex trafficking issue will start mixing with child pornography in enforcement.  

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