Here's a story that is both cool and scary--frankly, we'd like to know more about this technology.
It seems that police in Virginia are using a new computer technology that can track an image to any computer. In this case, they are using it to tag images containing child pornography and then tracking it to computers where the images are stored.
Using this approach, police have identified 20,000 computers in Virginia with the illegal images, including 500 in Arlington. The child pornography capital of Virginia, however, is Herndon, a small town where more than 1000 computers are housing this trash!
Now, it's pretty cool that police can use this to track down child pornography--the technology alone should greatly diminish activity in this illicit sphere, at least until someone figures out a technological way around it (as surely they will).
[Police can't just go in and arrest anyone who owns such a computer--they need additional evidence and prosecutorial resources.]
But it's also pretty scary from a Big Brother standpoint. If police can track down child pornography to individual computers, think what else they can do. This is just a good reminder that for most people on the internet, you're anything but anonymous--all kinds of information is being tracked on you and stored in massive databases. The implications are pretty profound.
Just to start with, what if police published a list of the locations of all the computers they discovered in their search? Some would probably be at businesses (ask the IT person at any large business how many computers have downloaded porn (not usually child porn, though) and they'll roll their eyes and tell you it's most of them), others at homes or apartments with multiple occupants.
But then what about tracking something besides child pornography? We can just imagine what the FBI might be doing with this technology if you downloaded an image of Osama Bin Laden. Or maybe the Bush administration is tracking our downloading habits of more benign images.
While we ruminate on the privacy issues, however, we'll keep our kids out of Herndon.