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Monday, 16 September, 2002, 09:38 GMT 10:38 UK
Porn tops computer crime boom

Internet child pornography is one of the biggest areas of crime being tackled by a specialised police unit in Northern Ireland.

The Computer Crime Unit has dealt with 95 reports of child pornography to date this year - a rise of 25 cases on last year's figures.

Last week, officers raided more than 30 homes in the province as part of a nationwide investigation into the downloading of indecent images of children.


People are being bombarded with unsolicited messages, such as hard core porn, child porn, gross images or requests for money

Dougie Powell
Police Computer Crime Unit
The five-member unit is now studying more than 100 computers seized by detectives and an extensive police investigation is taking place.

The seizures followed a huge inquiry in America codenamed Operation Candyman.

Acting Detective Inspector Dougie Powell, who heads the unit, said his team was busier than ever.

"The ease of obtaining such material on the internet has made it more common," he said.

"But equally, the internet has enabled us to trace people more easily.

Computer evidence
Bagged items of evidence await examination

"If someone has been downloading porn, there will be remnants of records left on their computer system."

The unit employs powerful resources and advanced techniques to check if suspects have been viewing or downloading child pornography or committing other offences.

Officers can tell if someone has been systematically searching for indecent images of children, or if a report of such behaviour turns out to be false.

The crime unit works in conjunction with other police departments, analysing media and producing evidence for use in prosecutions.

It was set up because officers were finding so much computer-related evidence during searches.

Crime unit officers - who are all experienced detectives with specialised computer expertise - attend scenes where computers have been encountered and seize them for evidence.

They then forensically copy the contents of any floppy discs, cds or hard drives.

To date this year, the unit has dealt with a total of 325 cases including serious fraud, counterfeiting, hacking, drugs and copyright offences.

A total of 123 cases of internet and e-mail crime were dealt with between January and August 2002 - an increase of 52 cases on the number reported last year.


I see no reason to see that we will not be twice as busy this time next year

Dougie Powell

"People are being bombarded with unsolicited messages, such as hard core porn, child porn, gross images or requests for money," said Mr Powell.

"The bulk of this is coming from outside our jurisdiction and it's massively on the increase. The people being sent the messages are usually innocent.

"We are getting two or three computers a day to analyse on this issue."

Mr Powell said his team's workload had increased dramatically in the five years since the unit was established.

"That is due to the size of computers' hard drives," he said. "They are 10 or 20 times the size they used to be. That means a 10-fold increase in the time it takes us to analyse them.

"Some single jobs entail 20 to 30 computer seizures and many different addresses and individuals are involved.

"There may be large numbers of computers seized in any particular job. We may have none in others."

Since 1998, crime using e-mail, mobile phones and digital cameras have been on the increase.

Mr Powell said with regular advances in computer technology, the number of cases being dealt with by his team would only increase.

"I see no reason to see that we will not be twice as busy this time next year," he said.


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18 Sep 02 | N Ireland
13 Sep 02 | N Ireland
16 Sep 02 | N Ireland
16 Sep 02 | N Ireland
18 Sep 00 | Education
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