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National

Prosecutors Dropping Child Porn Charges After Software Tools Are Questioned

[propublica.org – 4/3/19]

 

Using specialized software, investigators traced explicit child pornography to Todd Hartman’s internet address. A dozen police officers raided his Los Angeles-area apartment, seized his computer and arrested him for files including a video of a man ejaculating on a 7-year-old girl. But after his lawyer contended that the software tool inappropriately accessed Hartman’s private files, and asked to examine how it worked, prosecutors dismissed the case.

Near Phoenix, police with a similar detection program tracked underage porn photos, including a 4-year-old with her legs spread, to Tom Tolworthy’s home computer. He was indicted in state court on 10 counts of committing a “dangerous crime against children,” each of which carried a decade in prison if convicted. Yet when investigators checked Tolworthy’s hard drive, the images weren’t there. Even though investigators said different offensive files surfaced on another computer that he owned, the case was tossed.

At a time when at least half a million laptops, tablets, phones and other devices are viewing or sharing child pornography on the internet every month, software that tracks images to specific internet connections has become a vital tool for prosecutors. Increasingly, though, it’s backfiring.

Drawing upon thousands of pages of court filings as well as interviews with lawyers and experts, ProPublica found more than a dozen cases since 2011 that were dismissed either because of challenges to the software’s findings, or the refusal by the government or the maker to share the computer programs with defense attorneys, or both. Tami Loehrs, a forensics expert who often testifies in child pornography cases, said she is aware of more than 60 cases in which the defense strategy has focused on the software.

Defense attorneys have long complained that the government’s secrecy claims may hamstring suspects seeking to prove that the software wrongly identified them. But the growing success of their counterattack is also raising concerns that, by questioning the software used by investigators, some who trade in child pornography can avoid punishment.

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  1. Bo

    Wow, reminds me of drug cases that were going to be lost at a state level, only for the feds to pick up the case for a conspiracy charge with a lower standard of evidence.

  2. R M

    Even though ProPublica’s mission is:
    “To expose abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust by government, business, and other institutions, using the moral force of investigative journalism to spur reform through the sustained spotlighting of wrongdoing. So they still had to post their names even after the charges were dropped”…
    they still published names… boooooooo on them.

  3. AJ

    “But the growing success of their counterattack is also raising concerns that, by questioning the software used by investigators, some who trade in child pornography can avoid punishment.”
    —–
    That’s the way cookie crumbles, or is supposed to, in our justice system. It’s designed to favor letting guilty people “get away” with something over improperly convicting the innocent. The answer to all this is simple: hand over the forensic tools. Oh, you can’t? Well then pardon me for not trusting you and calling foul.
    =====

    “As was first reported by Reuters in 2013, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration relied in investigations on information gathered through domestic wiretaps, a phone-records database and National Security Agency intercepts, while training agents to hide those sources from the public record.”
    —–
    “…while training agents to hide those sources from the public record.” And they wonder why they’re not trusted?!? I guess criminal behavior is only okay when you’re the ‘good’ criminal.
    =====

    This whole thing reminds me of what went on 15-20 years ago with breathalyzers in some States. When defense attorneys requested the source code for the devices, the State would refuse or say it cannot due to proprietary rights–and cases would get dropped or tossed. Too bad, Mr. Government. Sure sucks to have to play by the rules, doesn’t it?

    Regardless the topic (CP, DUI, etc), I am *always* on the side of the citizen exercising his/her rights to see the evidence and impeach it. That governments only get EULAs and don’t own the software is not my problem. Maybe they can divert some Byrne Grant funds and Uncle Sam can buy it and give it to the States. Oh wait, then they would be obliged to reveal it in court…which for some strange reason makes them very nervous.

  4. TS

    “Hello, Best Buy? You need to be careful when doing searches on those computer brought in for service since we may need to reveal you are actually doing the searches using SW provided by and on behalf of the USG. If it is questioned, then you’re on your own.”

    The three letter agency mentioned here that starts with a letter between Mike and Oscar and sounds like a mid-fall month is not new to those searches. Read recently a rather informative book on related info to that agency and the first time it was caught doing that on the American public was during the Carter Admin.

    Proprietary data is a bitch no matter who owns it. Contractors don’t want to sell it to the USG and the USG does not want to own up or open it if they bought the development of it.

  5. Timothy

    The databases were always going to be utilized to protect the corrupted parties interests. The DOE decisions were necessary to clear the way for unconstitutional unfettered use by gov agents who are Clearly ” in bed” with big data brokers. I would bet my life that many politicians have personally gained financially by supporting the electronic surveillance firms. No one will bother to investigate that aspect because it would expose the people’s stupidity in letting big brother into their individual day to day lives.

    • Anonymous

      Common sense told me to explore this defense in cp case. So many years ago, I had no idea it was viable but I brought it up to my lawyer and pressed him on it a bit for the next few weeks though I had no money to actually go through with it (at NY trial) if it came to that. Well, my lawyer discouraged me in every way, shape & form from taking that defense. Looking back, I think I saw fear in his eyes. He got nervous. He changed the subject at all the right times.

    • Anonymous

      Local attorneys are in bed with the judges & DA’s to further their own careers and protect their own interests no matter how much you pay them.

      • e

        I couldn’t agree with you more. The San Jose based attorney I hired ended up being an ex San Mateo cop that told me what my conviction would be literally 15 minutes after we started talking. He hadn’t seen, read, or discussed ANYTHING!
        In court he wouldn’t discuss anything and rarely showed for dates( he sent a flunky). I have felt betrayed and used the entire process. I actually had evidence of my reporting the images found and IPs to a federal reporting site, yet none of this changed anything. I wish I could re address this, but money and time aren’t on my side.

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