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How should I handle detection of illegal porn?

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What to do if a porn scan turns up something illegal

Pornography detection software such as Snitch, Snitch plus and Snitch Enterprise are designed to analyse files for the presence of inappropriate material. The question raised next is how to deal with the material that has been detected. Regular pornography is one matter, but how should one deal with child pornography, and other illegal material?

The legalities of illegal porn

The legal requirements for reporting illegal pornography vary depending on location. Some countries have laws that govern how illegal material should be handled, while others do not. For example, various states in the United States have instituted child pornography bills, and Canada, has also enacted legislation that requires certain action to be taken when illegal porn is found on a computer, specifically child pornography or illegal child exploitation material. It is not just a simple matter of cleaning up material, but requirements in such regions may require the person finding the material to report it, or be in violation of the law themselves. This is a complicated situation; many individuals may not wish to be involved in an investigation, or may not want to implicate individuals close to them, eg. family members, relatives or friends. Take for example a wife finding her husband's child pornography collection, or an employee discovering illegal activity by a co-worker, manager or CEO. Naturally this will cause consternation on the part of the discoverer of the material; they will be torn between protecting themselves and those close to them, and doing what is required by law. But in many of these cases the law gives them no choice.

How do you define 'illegal porn'?

More confusion arises when trying to define what is 'illegal porn' and what is not. The phrase 'illegal porn' typically refers to child pornography, ie. pornography featuring underage girls, but can mean other kinds of pornography including those containing bestiality (sexual activity involving animals), violent crime, etc.

The most common form of pornography on the internet features young women above legal age (typically understood to be 18 yrs, in the US at least), but it can be difficult to tell somebody's age just by looking at them. An 18 year old woman might naturally look younger than 18; everybody's physical development occurs at different rates. Often photographers dress up legal age women to appear much younger than they actually are (eg. as schoolgirls), presumably to cater to those men who are titillated by underage girls.

This makes it difficult to accurately tell the age of somebody in an image or a video. So at what stage do you decide that something is actually child porn, and therefore illegal? Experienced forensic personnel who manually check pornography as part of their daily work, often report that they just 'know' illegal porn when they see it. In many cases, it is too difficult to prove legally if a participant is underage if they 'could be 18' by some stretch of the imagination. If an image features a woman that looks 16, it is more likely that she has been made to look like that intentionally for the reasons mentioned earlier. However if it's a prepubescent child who could not be even more than 10, there is no doubt. In these cases they have no choice but to act.

Who should be reviewing porn scan results in a corporate environment?

Products like Snitch detection software are very capable of detecting pornography in any form. But no existing detection technology has the 'human element' necessary to truly understand what 'illegal' is (and probably nor will it for the forseeable future), and so manual human review of detected porn is required to separate illegal from regular porn.

In a typical organization that includes checks for pornography as part of their acceptable use policy, it is fairly common that the job of reviewing discovered material falls to the youngest technical staff. Why? Typically a company's technical staff come straight from school or college, and a company will usually put its lowest paid staff on the repetitive job of reviewing results. But are young technicians competent to make decisions about what is illegal and what is not? Putting decisions like that in their hands gives them power that could potentially be abused; and exposing young staff to graphic material may invite litigation.

Decisions about who should be performing scans of company workstations are very dependent on corporate culture, and every organization has to choose their own path. They also need to formulate (or modify) a matching Acceptable Use Policy (AUP).Here are some items that require serious consideration:

  • Do university graduates in their twenties have the experience to make critical judgement about what is illegal material?
  • Are they psychologically equipped / mature enough to deal with anything they may potentially be exposed to, or will it affect them adversely?
  • Will they be willing to rat out their fellow employees, or are they going to turn a blind eye if they come across illegal porn?
  • Should forensic personnel with some experience in the field be employed to do the work? Can the cost be justified?
  • Should a company's legal department be involved to assist in decisions about reporting illegal content? To what level?

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A discussion of the legal ramifications of detecting illegal porn during a porn scan.
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