Helping to solve crimes is our business, but when crimes involve the sexual exploitation of children they take on an even greater sense of urgency. Fortunately, digital intelligence is providing critical evidence to build solid cases against those who would do harm to innocent children, but the numbers remain frighteningly high.

Millions of Cases Reported

In 2019, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) received more than 16.9 million reports on their CyberTipline, a service that allows the public and electronic service providers to report suspected instances of child sexual exploitation. A fact sheet on the NCMEC website states that “In 2019, reports to the CyberTipline included 69.1 million files with 27,788,328 images, 41,280,816 videos, and 89,053 other files.”

While NCMEC does not actively participate in investigations, copies of seized materials can be sent through law enforcement liaisons to compare seized data to information in NCMEC’s worldwide database to determine whether an exploited victim has appeared in any other cases in the U.S. or internationally.

NCMEC provided valuable assistance in 2017, when Lt. Corey Davis, who was then the Digital Forensics and Investigations Supervisor for the Connecticut Center For Digital Investigations (CDI) was alerted to a case involving alleged sexual exploitation of a female minor in his jurisdiction.

Digital Intelligence Plays a Critical Role

Lt. Davis immediately contacted federal authorities and together their teams raided the residence of James Ripberger. More than 50 devices were seized from Ripberger’s home, which would later be determined to hold more than 35 TB’s of data. Eventually, the case would involve the Department of Homeland Security, NCMEC, and some of America’s leading digital intelligence experts.

To parse that amount of data manually would have taken months and Lt. Davis realized that without facial recognition tools and expertise, the job would be all but impossible. He reached out to his representative from Cellebrite, who provides technology for the Glastonbury CT, police department where Lt. Davis’s serves.

The Cellebrite representative put Lt. Davis in touch with NCMEC, who works with many digital intelligence companies that want to provide assistance in missing and exploited children cases. Through a special partnership with Cellebrite, NCMEC was able to provide Lt. Davis’ team with the means to work directly with Cellebrite’s digital intelligence experts on the case.

Cellebrite flew a team of experts and equipment to Glastonbury to assist Lt. Davis’ team on the case. Using Advanced Analytics and AI, the team was able to narrow down the number of relevant devices to find images of child exploitation that weren’t in the standard hash sets Glastonbury PD normally uses to parse data.

Case Closed

Based on critical evidence discovered, James Ripberger was indicted in December 2017. Following his trail, Ripberger was sentenced to 150 months (12 ½ years) in prison for receiving child pornography followed by 10 years of supervised release. A state case against him is still pending.

“What was important was being able to visualize [all the evidence in] the case together as one,” Lt. Davis explained. “Gathering images from each device and uploading them into a single case file, then being able to immediately pick out which devices had images we were interested in [was crucial].”

Being able to parse mountains of data to quickly identify critical evidence that can lead to solid prosecutions is just one way that digital intelligence is helping law enforcement agencies keep communities safe.

Learn more about on Cellebrite’s Law Enforcement Solutions, here.

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