Virtual Childpornography and Steganography, What's Next?

April 6, 2008 by David S. Seltzer

So I was watching a television program and there was an interesting storyline. The program addressed a plethora of child pornography issues, which are clearly becoming an increasing concern for law enforcement as technology quickly advances. Without going into the entire show, the two interesting issues were: Youth Enhancement Software (Image Manipulation) and Steganography .

The program focused on the landmark case of Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, 535 U.S. 234 (2002), possession of virtual child pornography is not illegal, rather free speech. And what has developed as a result of that is a world that law enforcement and the Supreme Court cannot control. Technology that is used for “good,” age progression software; is now being used in reverse – age regression. So essentially, legal aged girls are being photoshopped back into their youth, and the child pornography is legal. According to the Supreme Court, that’s legal. Virtual child pornography or manipulated images are going to make prosecution of child pornography a whole new world. As these images start popping up around the world, prosecutors will no longer be able to stand up there and state that the images are actual real children. Expert testimony is going to drive the cost of prosecution on these cases through the roof, and with cutbacks all over the country in law enforcement, it will be interesting to see what gives, the trial tactics, or the Constitutional right to “free speech…”? If anyone image in the defendant’s control is not “authentic,” the entire prosecution is compromised.

Another interesting issue addressed in the program was Steganography . Basically, it’s a secret image or text hidden behind another image. This is interesting because it is becoming more prevalent on the web and easily available to anyone who can download the necessary software. It’s not used solely for child pornography, but it’s been its most recent adaptation. To the naked eye, without the appropriate software, looking at a picture of the Statue of Liberty can really be pornography. When you decrypt the code, you will not see any lost pixels or portions of the image. So sending it over the internet can often allow the image to travel undetected through internet photo scanner programs (a discussion for another day).

It makes you wonder about technology today and its effects on the investigation and prosecution of child pornography, what does tomorrow hold? Technology is going to continue to be an uphill battle for all involved in protecting our youth. So again, what has to give to protect our children, whose rights, free speech?