Organizing child pornography evidence

LACE (Law Enforcement Against Child Exploitation) software, in the final stages of development from BlueBear Inc. located in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, helps investigators sort and categorize images found on seized computer hard drives in child...

One of the primary benefits of using LACE is not only is work made easier and faster, investigators don't have to look at the same pornographic images repeatedly. When categorizing images, investigators only need to look at the new images.

Nash observed Shrewsbury-Gee as he manually categorized images.

"I just couldn't look at the images," Nash says. "Disgusting doesn't even begin to describe them; they're really horrible."

He understands how investigators can have a high stress level, get burned out and want to move on to another job.

Shrewsbury-Gee says: "It's actually sickening when you sit there and see these images — the general public just doesn't realize how disgusting these images really are. People don't equate child pornography with infants, children who are barely old enough to breathe. If there's audio, you can sometimes hear children screaming. You can see the pain and anguish on their faces as they're being abused, and it really, really weighs heavily on an investigator.

"If you can reduce the amount of pornography investigators have to see repetitively, then obviously that has a profound benefit. We are human, just like everybody else out there, and these things negatively impact us. When you keep seeing them, it actually makes you physically ill. If we can reduce the amount of things we have to be exposed to, then obviously the investigators are going to benefit tremendously and they're going to be more effective."

Future technology

BlueBear's ultimate goal is for LACE to be used as an international tool to combat child pornography trafficking.

In the near future, BlueBear will be adding the ability to handle video files to the LACE application. This will include matching the video, matching portions of the video, and automatically detecting and extracting faces from video.

Currently LACE does not automatically identify elements within images, such as a location, car or chair. Shrewsbury-Gee would like to be able to identify portions of a picture and put them into a database for comparison with other pictures. An example he gives is a tattoo found on a suspect that would help identify who the suspect is and how many crimes the suspect has committed.

By recognizing objects, technology would be able to identify portions of pictures. These portions, such as an image of a tattoo or a design on wallpaper, could be saved to help identify perpetrators and locations. The quicker they can be identified, the less a child victim will be physically or emotionally harmed, Shrewsbury-Gee says.

Both today and tomorrow, he says, "That's the No. 1 goal: to rescue the children."

Rebecca Kanable is a freelance writer who specializes in law enforcement topics living in Wisconsin. She can be reached at

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