Microsoft tool helps combat threat to kids

Product created with Canadian authorities has already helped nab one alleged child pornographer, company says.

Microsoft has introduced a computer system designed to let police agencies share information for tracking online child predators.

The Child Exploitation Tracking System, or CETS, was fashioned in collaboration with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Toronto Police Service, Microsoft said on Thursday. It has already resulted in the November 2004 arrest of one alleged Toronto child pornographer, who was identified and targeted during beta testing of the database and investigation system, the company said.

"Prior to CETS, police forces were manually sorting through files and photos, making it almost impossible to share information," Toronto Police Service Chief Designate William Blair said in a statement. "CETS is shifting the power of the Internet out of the hands of the predators and back to the police."

The project is one of a number of efforts by technology companies to make the Internet safer for children. According to a 2001 U.S. Department of Justice report (PDF) on a survey of Internet users aged 10 through 17, almost one in five had received an unwanted sexual solicitation in the previous year.

Microsoft described CETS as "a security-enhanced database that can run on a variety of computer systems and uses open standards to allow computer systems from different countries and with different technologies to communicate with one another."

In October, CETS beta testing linked information on computer systems at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to a separate investigation by the FBI with information about a Toronto child pornographer, Microsoft said. As a result, a 4-year-old girl was identified and rescued by Toronto police from the man who had allegedly photographed and assaulted her, the company said.

The system's origins lie in a personal e-mail plea from Toronto Police Detective Sergeant Paul Gillespie to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates in January 2003, according to Microsoft.

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