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Ernest Miller Ernest Miller pursues research and writing on cyberlaw, intellectual property, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Miller attended the U.S. Naval Academy before attending Yale Law School, where he was president and co-founder of the Law and Technology Society, and founded the technology law and policy news site LawMeme. He is a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Ernest Miller's blog postings can also be found @

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July 13, 2004

New Technology Can Thwart Child Pornographers Without Inhibiting Free Expression

Posted by Ernest Miller

A couple of weeks ago I discussed some news regarding an ex-prosecutor who was now testifying as an expert witness on behalf of those accussed of possessing child pornography (Prosecutors Threaten Child Porn Legal Defender). Federal prosecutors were very upset that this lawyer was disrupting their prosecutions. Under existing law, however, the defense the lawyer was providing (that the photos might be photoshopped and not actually of children at all) is perfectly legal and makes a lot of sense.

Later, Prof. Eugene Volokh wondered if the difficulties in prosecuting such cases would cause the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling that protects speech that may appear to be of children, but isn't (Child porn cases thrown out).

My argument has always been that the prosecutors just have to do a better job. As I noted before, they can create databases of authenticated child porn. You only need a handful of images for a successful prosecution, and if the target of the prosecution has a handful of images out of the authenticated database ... game over.

Additionally, the feds have to be a little more sophisticated about authenticating images. After all, digital manipulation of photos isn't limited to pornography alone. Luckily, it appears that other government departments have been taking some proactive steps.

Prof. Hany Farid, a researcher at Dartmouth College is developing algorithms that will help distinguish images that have been manipulated from images that have not (Investigating digital images):

Farid and his students have built a statistical model that captures the mathematical regularities inherent in natural images. Because these statistics fundamentally change when images are altered, the model can be used to detect digital tampering.
For child pornography prosecutors, this technique could easily be used to show that child porn photos haven't been digitally manipulated. Prosecutors have to work smarter, not simply protest that the Constitution keeps them from doing their job.

via Boing Boing

Bonus: Farid also works on "the digital reconstruction of Ancient Egyptian tombs."

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Freedom of Expression


1. Tom Haviland on July 13, 2004 07:45 PM writes...

Seems to me that all you have to do then is to take your pictures and run them through a filter that makes them appear to be altered...

Although the database idea is pretty good

Permalink to Comment

2. Ernest Miller on July 13, 2004 08:01 PM writes...

I'm not sure that a simple filter added in photoshop would do the trick. I think you'd have to do something more.

You also get an arms race. One that will be difficulty for the pornographers to win, I think.

In any case, again, if there is a handful of photos that are untreated, then you still get the guy.

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3. Seth Finkelstein on July 14, 2004 01:20 AM writes...

There's already a database, with checksums. It's used in scans of machines by Customs Service.

But obviously all possible such images can't be in the database.

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