Child porn a growing problem, AG's Cyber Crime Unit fighting back

The Cyber Crime Unit evidence room inside the Louisiana Dept. of Justice (Source: WAFB)
The Cyber Crime Unit evidence room inside the Louisiana Dept. of Justice (Source: WAFB)
Any parent will tell you that raising children in the digital age means a whole new list of potential dangers.
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice told Congress that “the expansion of the Internet has led to an explosion in the market for child pornography.” In 2015 alone, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimated that their analysts reviewed more than 26 million sexual abuse images and videos.
Inside Louisiana’s Department of Justice is an evidence room stacked with computers, hard drives, and cell phones full of child pornography. They represent over a decade of cases across the state.

“One case can contain maybe 2,000 images of children being physically abused,” explained lead investigator Corey Bourgeois. “You’re looking at that for eight and a half to ten hours a day. That’s your job.”

Bourgeois leads Attorney General Jeff Landry’s elite Cyber Crime Unit. It's part of the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force program that collaborates with 4,500 law enforcement agencies around the country.

It’s noble work that’s not for the faint of heart. Since Landry took office in January 2016, around 300 people have been arrested statewide for child sex crimes.

“We're bringing those people to justice, so hopefully they don't have an opportunity to prey on children anymore,” Landry said.

It's a job that's gotten much harder in recent years. Over three quarters of the population now uses a smartphone, including many children.

“Handing them a phone is probably more dangerous than handing them a gun,” Landry added.

Smartphones have not only made child porn easier to produce, they've also given predators direct access to kids.

“When we were brought up, we were told about the predator being in the park with a dog and a bag of candy,” said supervisory special agent Brian Brown. “In reality most predators are family members, friends of the family, neighbors. It can be anyone.”

Brown has arrested hundreds of suspects in his nine years on the job, and he said lately the trends are more troubling. Victims seem to be getting younger and their abuse more shocking.

“We're seeing more and more infants and toddlers being sexually abused, and so that's kind of becoming the norm when we go into these houses where we're seeing babies that are in bondage or bestiality and different things like that,” Brown said.

It’s an uncomfortable reality that’s hard for many of us to process. For investigators, it’s motivation to work harder. They try to stay one step ahead of the technology that’s fueling the problem. Bourgeois said many suspected predators are surprised when law enforcement shows up at their homes.


“A lot of people still think it's magic,” he explained. “They have this technology in their hands, and they send a text message. They don't care how it goes from point A to point B, but the fact is it does go through certain servers, and those servers are located all around the world, and there are tools in place to help law enforcement track illicit material.”

If that sounds vague, it should. Once investigators get tips from local law enforcement, they rely heavily on specialized computer programs they don't want us to know about. Those programs help them monitor suspects and collect evidence.

“What a lot of people don’t understand is that files have what is called a hash value, and it’s like a fingerprint. We’re looking for those digital fingerprints on all of our devices,” Bourgeois said.

But even that technology has its limits. Locked iPhones are often inaccessible, and files can be hidden anywhere.

“A lot of times you'll find SD cards and tiny little USB drives, and some suspects hide them. Sock drawers, maybe they'll hide them in a wall,” Bourgeois said.

As they investigate, Landry's office also educates. Glossy booklets titled “Be Smart with Your Smartphone” (download PDF here) are being handed out to children and teens across Louisiana. They cover everything from online predators to cyber bullying and texting while driving. The booklet advises to never give out personal info or send pictures of yourself, assume people are lying, and report suspicious people. Ultimately, investigators say the responsibility lies with parents.


“Parents aren’t educating their children about the dangers that are so close to their homes,” Brown said.

“Understand what you're giving your child. Understand there are restrictions that you can place on that particular device. Talk to your children, and certainly encourage them to report suspicious activity,” Landry added.

Louisiana’s Cyber Crime Unit is grossly underfunded compared to the scope of the problem it faces. Fewer than a dozen people investigate an average of 130 tips a month that come in from across the state. The unit relies on federal grants, which Landry said are shrinking. He plans to ask the legislature for extra cash to offset those costs.

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Copyright 2018 WAFB. All rights reserved.