How Does Someone Know That They’re Being Investigated For A Child Pornography Case?
Interviewer: You said that he was investigated. How does someone know that they’re being investigated? How do you find out?
Paul Cramm: I think a lot of folks are able to be very, very honest with themselves in complete privacy about the degree of risk-taking in their online behavior. I think most people will probably admit to having visited a few adult websites at one point or another, perhaps out of simple curiosity. I think most of us know, depending on what images we’ve seen on the computer, or what the name of the site is, and most people are able the ascertain if they’re visiting a heavily marketed, heavily publicized commercial site, which is in all likelihood a completely lawful and protected.
They’ve wound up at a site that really contains some very questionable, or perhaps very clearly inappropriate images based on the age of the participants. Most people know based on their own Internet surfing behavior if they have put themselves at risk or not. How did they find out they were under investigation? Unfortunately, for this kind of crime, usually, typically, the very first notice that someone has that they’re under investigation is when a law enforcement officer, a federal agent, knocks on the door with a warrant to see any and all electronic equipment and storage devices in the residence.
That’s typically when someone first realizes that their Internet activity has been under scrutiny, because certainly we are absolutely exposed when we’re online. The IP address, which is associated with an Internet account, which is associated with the billing address, shows up at every single site a person visits. If there is a site that is openly and notoriously promoting itself overseas as offering or having available unlawful images, often times federal authorities will have constant surveillance and monitoring for the traffic to and from that site.
There isn’t anything the feds can do about a citizen of the country of France visiting a website hosted in Germany. There’s certainly something they can do if there’s a citizen of the United States visiting a questionable site overseas. A lot of times, the Internet topic is going to be the tip-off to the law enforcement agencies. They will use simple billing records and IP addresses to identify at least a person responsible for the account, and that’s often enough to secure a probable cause warrant to search that residence to see if any electronic equipment in the residence contains these questionable downloaded images.
Interviewer: How long do they investigate? Is it a matter of months, days, or years?
Paul Cramm: I don’t know if there’s any real set rule. I do think that out of an abundance of caution, a lot of these investigative agencies really do take additional time. They take more time; they’ll slow down if they see some traffic from an IP address. Typically, not any isolated visit to and from the site results in a search warrant. Typically, they want to see repeated visits to and from the site, monitor the conduct while on the site, see if someone is downloading, or exchanging, or using file-sharing software to exchange high volumes of data.
I think they want to monitor the activity, and not try to make a move on a single or isolated click through a website and out, but they will monitor to see if there’s recurrent traffic from the same IP address over and over.
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