A man previously charged with sexual assault of a minor was caught distributing child porn via email by Google. John Henry Skillern was trying to avoid getting caught by keeping the encrypted photo inside of his email. By encrypting the image it became undetectable to the unsuspecting “eye” but not so with Google’s spying eye. Google shot the tip to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children which led to the arrest of 41-year-old Skillern for the possession of child pornography.
David Nettles, Director of the Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce, said he did not know how Google monitors email or exactly how they did found the image but he was glad they helped catch this sick man. After searching Skillern’s home, according to Nettles, more porn was found on other electronic devices. The search found this ex-con, who worked as a cook at Denny’s restaurant, had taken pictures and captured video of children with his cell phone while they dined at the eatery with their families. They also found e-mails and text messages where he talked about his interest in children.
According to the law images of child pornography fall under Section 2256 of Title 18:
United States Code defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (someone under 18 years of age). Visual depictions include photographs, videos, digital or computer generated images indistinguishable from an actual minor, and images created, adapted, or modified, but appear to depict an identifiable, actual minor.
In 1994 Skillern was convicted of sexually assaulting an eight-year-old boy and jailed for 20 years. For the rest of his life he will be a registered sex offender. Although he spent much of his time at the home of his parents on Hickory Lane in Pasadena, the sex offender registry states he lives at 2400 Lidstone in Houston. One neighbor, Yesenia Gonzales, said,
Thank goodness for Google, he seemed like a nice, normal man.
Google users need to be aware that Google’s bots are watching every keystroke and monitoring every click its users make. The relative portion of Google’s terms of service reads as follows:
Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.
For several years Google has used a “hashing” technology to tag known child sex abuse images. With this technology when copies of these images show up elsewhere they are then detected by computer software. Each image is assigned a unique ID number, catalogued and encrypted which is then tested against other images being sent from Gmail accounts in search of a match.
Last year Google revealed the launch of its Child Protection Technology Fund to encourage the development of more precise software. The technology giant has done it again with the development of this state of the art software which proactively searches millions of email accounts for child abuse images.
Details of the software came to light after Skillern, a convicted sex offender, was arrested for possession of child abuse images. The good news is pedophiles around the world will no longer be able to send pornographic images via email without a greater risk of their crimes becoming known to the authorities. Law enforcement recently revealed that Google’s sophisticated search system had identified such material in an email sent by this ex-con in Houston. Child protection experts were automatically alerted and were then able to tip-off the police, which led to the arrest of John Henry Skillern.
By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)