41-year-old John Henry Skillern was arrested and charged with child pornography cybercrimes, after Google tipped off the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Google used powerful new technology to scan billions of emails sent by millions of people and found evidence that Skillern had sent pornographic pictures to a friend. A detective on the case, David Nettles, told the BBC: “I can’t see that information [that led to the tip], I can’t see that photo, but Google can.”
Google has been working with the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which helps the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children find “images of child sex abuse [and] then quickly remove them and report their existence to the authorities.” All told, Gmail has 400 million plus users around the world. Most people agree that this kind of snooping can have positive effects on society by identifying potentially dangerous individuals, but privacy advocates have fought back against some aspects of Google’s program.
For instance, Emily Carr of Big Brother Watch expressed concern to the BBC: “With the rate that Gmail messages are scanned, and the fact that all U.S. companies are bound by U.S. law to report suspected child abuse, it is hardly surprising that this individual has found himself on the wrong side of the law. However, Gmail users will certainly be interested to know what action Google proactively takes to monitor and analyze Gmail messages for illegal content… Google must also make themselves very clear about what procedures and safeguards are in place to ensure that people are not wrongly criminalized.”
Critics note that, while Google has targeted child pornography users, it does not scan emails for signs of crimes like burglary or murder or rape. In other words, if a person wrote an email detailing a burglary plot to a bunch of co-conspirators, Google wouldn’t even have the technology to identify such a plot.
Google has faced several legal actions regarding its scanning of emails. Earlier this year, Google stopped scanning 30+ million accounts, after reports emerged that the company had breached a privacy law. However, company officials insist: “we only use this technology to identify child sexual imagery.” John Hawes, a consultant who works on cyber security, offered his opinion to AFP about the case, saying: “some [will] see [Google's actions in this case] as yet another sign of how the twin Big Brothers of state agencies and corporate behemoths have nothing better to do than delve into the private lives of all and sundry, looking for dirt.”
Regardless of the broader implications of the case, if you have questions about how to defend against cyber crime charges, contact Florida defense attorney, David Seltzer, immediately for a free and confidential consultation. Call us now at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (888-843-3333).