Manitoba

Digital tool helps police deal with child porn investigations

New software is allowing Winnipeg police to use automated image matching to cut down the amount of time officers have to spend looking at child sexual abuse.

New software is allowing Winnipeg police to use automated image matching to cut down the amount of time officers have to spend looking at child pornography.

The Winnipeg force has seized several million images and videos of children being sexually abused since its internet child exploitation unit was launched in 2001.

In the past, investigators were forced to view each photograph or video individually to identify potential victims and categorize the images for court purposes.

The new software, which the force has been testing for more than a year, allows police to "fingerprint" and categorize known images of child abuse, then store them in a database. 

The database currently includes about 12 million image "fingerprints," which are matched against newly seized, uncategorized images, thereby reducing the officers' exposure to much of the horrifying material.

Tough on officers

The work previously took hundreds of hours, and viewing such images takes a terrible emotional toll on the officers who do it, police said.

"It's not uncommon to seize computer hard drives containing hundreds of thousands of images and videos," officials said Tuesday in a release.

"The long-term psycho-emotional repercussions of viewing the violent sexual nature of this material can negatively impact member's personal, family and professional lives."

Police hope the new software — developed by a Canadian company, BlueBear Law Enforcement Services — will speed up court cases against offenders and allow officers to spend more time investigating cases, rather than processing data.

Several other jurisdictions in Canada are doing trials on similar software, but Winnipeg is the first to institute it fulltime.