Computer Crimes, Child Porn, Using a Computer to Commit a Crime: Peer to Peer (P2P) – File Sharing Risks on the Internet


What does Peer to Peer (P2P) Mean?

File sharing sites on the internet allow the access of digital content from other computers connected on a peer to peer (P2P) network. A peer (personal computer user) may copy the contents such as videos, music, photographs or books of a peer (another personal computer).

Risks Associated with P2P Networks – File Sharing

Some of the risks associated with P2P file sharing are as follows:

  • Exposing your hard disk to others
  • Contracting computer viruses
  • Infringing copyright
  • Others using the P2P can obtain files from your computer’s hard drive

Usually, many P2P file sharing programs have inferior security. This can pose a danger for all the contents stored in a hard disk which are exposed to other users. In addition, the computers of P2P users can contract computer viruses because file’s are downloaded from an unknown source. P2P programs may also contain viruses and worms, which prevent users’ computers from functioning properly.

Crimes Associated with File Sharing

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has issued warnings regarding the dangers of P2P activity. The warnings caution users regarding the potential threats of Peer-to-Peer networks, the legal consequences of copyright infringement, illegal pornography and computer hacking. Since P2P networks allow access to anyone, law enforcement agencies at both the federal and state level have become actively involved in searching out cyber criminals or those that may possess or distribute child pornography.

How Does Law Enforcement Know Someone is Involved in File Sharing on P2P Network?

Law enforcement officers conduct surveillance within P2P networks by searching databases for incriminating files. When a P2P user downloads a file, the program places it into a shared folder. In addition, the user may also provide files from a computer to the shared folder for others to obtain. The FBI has a program which allows it to see all of a user’s shared files. The FBI will track an IP address of a computer and eventually obtain the owner’s name and physical location from an Internet Service Provider (ISP). This is followed by a search warrant for computer equipment, electronic storage devices and any other material which may contain illegal content such as child pornography.

Child Porn: Worldwide Problem

A variety of laws contained within United States Code make it a federal crime to advertise, distribute (traffic), produce, transport, receive or possess child pornography. The internet has made child pornography more accessible than at any time in history. A recent study, Child Pornography on the Internet, provides an excellent resource regarding the problems associated with child pornography in the age of electronic transferring and digital imaging. Quoting from the article:

“It is difficult to be precise about the extent of Internet child pornography, but all of the available evidence points to it being a major and growing problem. At any one time there are estimated to be more than one million pornographic images of children on the Internet, with 200 new images posted daily. One offender arrested in the U.K. possessed 450,000 child pornography images. It has been reported that a single child pornography site received a million hits in a month. As noted above, one problem in estimating the number of sites is that many exist only for a brief period before they are shut down, and much of the trade in child pornography takes place at hidden levels of the Internet. It has been estimated that there are between 50,000 and 100,000 pedophiles involved in organized pornography rings around the world, and that one-third of these operate from the United States.

Hiring a lawyer should be your first priority, avoid making any incriminating statements or submitting to a polygrapyh!

If you find yourself in a position where your  Internet Protocol (IP) address has been compromised, you are capable of being tracked by the police or FBI. In Michigan, the Michigan State Police and local law enforcement agencies, such as the Macomb County Sheriff Department, have created task forces to investigate individuals involved in activity related to child pornography.  When the police are hot on the trail of a person involved in recent activity, a search of the person’s premises may occur without any notice. Items related to illegal activity will be seized along with any computers, smart phones and storage devices (portable hard drives, discs, memory sticks and flash drives). Criminal charges may be delayed while the police forensically examine the stored data. The police have the capability to resurrect deleted images and can build a case with a single illegal image. File sharing constitutes distribution and is treated more harshly.

Contacting a lawyer that has experience handling sex-related crimes and computer crimes should be your first priority if you are the subject of an investigation or have been arrested for child pornography or using a computer to commit a crime. Our firm would advise that you exercise your right to remain silent. In an interrogation setting, the police have the upper hand to gather details from the accused party. In addition, the police will swiftly schedule a polygraph examination when a person makes a denial of criminal activity. A polygraph measures natural bodily reactions (such as sweating and increased pulse rate) when a person is faced with a stressful situation like trying to cover up a lie.  The accuracy of polygraphs is disputed by many and the results are inadmissible in court proceedings. However, the police will use the polygraph as an opportunity to gather facts and evidence whenever possible. Since it is possible for an innocent person to fail a polygraph, we would never recommend one except after careful analysis on a case-by-case basis.