Child pornography investigators can track data trails of shared files

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- Police continue to investigate the hidden-camera case that has affected several Huntsville businesses.

Jeremy Nelson is already charged with production of child pornography, with other charges expected on a federal level.

Production of child pornography is a crime that carries the most severe charges in internet child crime cases, according to Bryan Cox, Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman.

It carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

"Let's be very clear," he said, "Production of child pornography is child rape."

We now know that a two-month investigation has linked Nelson to producing and trading child pornography. Perpetrators often share the porn they create with others online, and that can be done through email, peer-to-peer sharing, and other encrypted means, according to investigators.

Cox says, "The challenge with child pornography is always identifying where the file originated. Where it's been shared."

"Every file that is placed on the internet comes with a unique identifier," he said. "One of the things we'll then do is trace that back to identify the individual who received that child pornography, but we want to then find the other individuals who distributed it and also ultimately the individuals who produced the child pornography."

This process can take days, weeks, or even months, depending on the amount of content and how many have shared it.

Perpetrators have been known to also delete incriminating files from hard drives and computers, too. But Cox says that doesn't necessarily mean they're gone from those devices forever.

"Even individuals who think they're going to overwrite their hard drive," said Cox, "in many cases we are able to still recover that data."

From the information that identifies the file, police can see how long the file has been on a drive, and when it's been accessed. The specifics on how that works is confidential to protect investigations, but the bottom line according to Cox, "Any criminal who thinks they are going to engage in child sexual exploitation and then conceal the evidence, is quite simply kidding themselves."