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Why OSINT is a Life Saving Tool for Victims, Saving Hundreds of Missing and Exploited Children


I am a long-time prosecutor and founder of the National Child Protection Task Force (NCPTF), a non-profit organization which provides investigative resources to under-funded law enforcement organizations. As an advocate of advanced investigative tools like facial recognition technology, I am a strong believer that there should be a balance between ensuring proper guardrails are in place, while also allowing for the effective use of facial recognition technology using an open source database. I have seen first-hand how facial recognition technology has helped hundreds of missing and exploited children and helped identify and apprehend hundreds of sexual predators in multiple states and countries.

Since February 2011, I have been a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney at the Washington County Prosecutor’s Office in Arkansas, where I prosecute felonies. I am also the founder and Chief Executive Officer of NCPTF. The NCPTF operates with approximately 50 volunteers that include active-duty law enforcement officers who volunteer their time to help state, federal, and international law enforcement agencies investigate online child abuse, recover exploited children, and hunt sexual predators and human traffickers.

The members of the NCPTF help provide detectives, analysts, and officers access to investigative expertise and resources that are unavailable or underfunded in most law enforcement organizations. For example, the NCPTF brings together recognized experts in facial recognition technology, strategic legal applications, open-source intelligence (OSINT), cellular mapping and analysis, dark-web investigations, and cryptocurrency to aid law enforcement agencies everywhere.

OSINT is a critical component in the timely identification and rescue of these young victims of violent crimes. In fact, without the ability to effectively process open-source intelligence, our success in these cases would be tragically impaired. I could give you hundreds of examples of children who were being sexually exploited or raped and were rescued solely because of access to OSINT, but most cases follow the same general fact pattern. Law enforcement officers find videos and photos on the dark web of children being raped – many are produced by parents, siblings, or other close family members. Law enforcement knows nothing about these children other than the fact that they are being raped and that their videos and photos are being traded or sold on the dark web.

Using traditional investigative techniques, law enforcement officers must carefully scrutinize every second of these rape videos hoping that the perpetrators will make a mistake and reveal a clue, such as a street sign, identification card, or receipt that could give investigators a lead. On the dark web, predators maintain manuals of changes in the law, technological advances, and the methods investigators use to identify other pedophiles. The ready availability of these how-to manuals means that predators make fewer mistakes that investigators can use to track them, and children continue to be exploited and raped.

Most of the time, law enforcement only has images of helpless children's faces with no way to identify them or bring them to safety. It is fruitless to run the faces of child rape victims, many of whom are prepubescent, through traditional law enforcement facial recognition programs because these programs are typically limited to booking photos. Sometimes, the faces of predators are present, but that is still a long shot as many of the abusers have managed to avoid arrest.