updated 4/7/2005 9:32:17 PM ET 2005-04-08T01:32:17

Microsoft and Canadian authorities on Thursday launched a software program designed to help police worldwide hunt down child porn traffickers by enabling authorities for the first time to link information such as credit card purchases, Internet chat room messages and arrest records.

Microsoft said the Child Exploitation Tracking System is the first software designed specifically to capture pornographers who prey on children and sell their images via the Internet. It will allow police departments worldwide to share and track previously unlinked information on investigations and suspects.

David Hemler, president of Microsoft Canada, said Internet pornographers were computer savvy, so the program would put law enforcement officials "on the same level as the bad guys."

The open source program was developed by Microsoft Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Toronto police, with the help of the Department of Homeland Security, Scotland Yard and Interpol.

(MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

The FBI has seen a 2,000 percent increase in the number of child pornography images on the Internet since 1996 and Canadian police estimate that more than 100,000 Web sites contain images of child sexual abuse. Experts say at least 95 percent of victims are abused by someone they know, either a relative or neighbor.

Hemler said Microsoft committed $4 million toward the program and that the software would be available to any police force at no cost.

John P. Clark, deputy assistant secretary of immigration and customs enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security, said the program released Thursday was the first dedicated to child protection.

"We were lending our expertise because we have established tracking systems," said Clark, who attended the launch.

The initiative was the result of a January 2003 e-mail sent to Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder, from a member of the Toronto Police Service sex-crimes unit, asking for help in battling child pornography.

The billionaire, known for his philanthropy in the area of AIDS research and education, called on Microsoft Canada to develop software that would aid police officials.

Detective Sgt. Paul Gillespie, who sent the initial e-mail, told The Associated Press several suspected pornographers had already been arrested during testing of the new system. One man was arrested in Toronto last week, after a tip plugged into CETS linked with two previous reports on the suspect.

"When we pulled up all three, it gave us the ability to physically identify somebody and grounds for an arrest warrant," Gillespie said.

Gillespie said another suspect was arrested several months ago, after information from the FBI, Scotland Yard and Homeland Security, investigating child pornography chat rooms and credit card purchases of the images, were programmed into the system.

"It identified a link between one of those people on the credit card list with one very small consistency in this chat room in the UK," Gillespie said. "Both pieces of the puzzles were put together and out of that we were able to identify somebody; an abuser of a young child taking pictures with his own camera."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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