In a perfect world, more resources would be a sensible formula to solve myriad problems for the province’s Internet Child Exploitation unit, but for Det. Steve Horchuk, the math is pretty simple.
The longer it takes to catch offenders, Horchuk explains, the more likely they are to keep offending and the more likely they are to take steps in learning how to erase or encrypt data in order to obfuscate investigators.
After all, an online tutorial on the latest app or encrypted video transfer system is just a click away.
As criminals find new ways of networking to share online child pornography, bulky desktop computers are rapidly being replaced by game consoles and a proliferation of mobile devices, peer-to-peer file transmission and encrypted or anonymized communication apps, so to are ICE units around the world learning from networking.
Interconnectivity works both ways, says Horchuk, and people no longer have to be tech savvy to share.
“There’s a YouTube video for everything, there’s a website for everything, so you don’t need to know this stuff intrinsically,” says the 18-year police veteran.
“You don’t need to know the tech behind it, you don’t even have to fully comprehend how it works, you just need to be able to find and follow a tutorial.
“That’s the scary thing.”
Double edge sword
With more than 18 years service, Horchuk has not only witnessed the evolution of technology used by the seedy underbelly of society but also the transformation of the underbelly itself.
Pre-internet there was an isolation factor for those involved in a marginalized crime area, Horchuk says.
“When you are engaged with something that even in the criminal world as being dark and taboo, there was an extra level of marginalization, you’re isolated, you’re ashamed, and there’s a stigma.”
Yet that interconnectivity, the one that is so great in sharing news and photos of your life and which has “flattened the world out into one great global community” has a flip side.
“The double edge to that sword is that bad guys are networked too now… they are emboldened, they help each other and they train each other and that’s where the challenges are.”
And this is where the paradox comes in: Those trying to catch them, however, are using that interconnectivity to get better at what they do in finding, preventing and catching those involved in sexual exploitation of children.
Investigators across the globe have developed their own networks to share techniques to help in investigations.
“Somebody somewhere has had to deal with an issue that you are coming across and found a way to deal with it,” he says.
Helping investigators in all of this in one of life’s undying truths: “Humans are inherently lazy and creatures of habit,” observes Horchuk.
“Luckily that human frailty continues to exist.”