Maine focusing on P2P network porn sharing

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LEWISTON — Tuesday’s arrest of Dr. David York in Topsham and last week’s arrest of convicted sex offender Larry Smart in Mexico were both the result of a new push by Maine’s Computer Crimes Unit to track pornography on so-called peer-to-peer, or P2P, networking sites.

In the York and Smart cases, the men were tracked to a network in Wyoming that trades child porn, police say.

“We’ve known these peer-to-peer networks have been out there a while,” said Col. Patrick Fleming, chief of the Maine State Police. But authorities haven’t had the resources to put a lot of time into it, he said.

Last year, under a two-year federal grant, two new special investigators were assigned to the Criminal Crimes Unit specifically to track child porn traffic.

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The special agents are Michael McFadden of the Belfast Police Department and Frank Stepnik of the South Portland Police Department.

“Basically, they do the legwork that we weren’t able to do before,” Fleming said.

McFadden was the arresting officer in the York and Smart cases.

Fleming said the Crimes Unit has a box with a couple hundred cases under investigation and he expects more arrests in the future as they whittle down backlogged cases.

“We can go out on any given day and find people using these peer-to-peer networks, so we’re really at this point focusing on the more egregious users,” he said. “We’ll get them and then go after some of the others.”

The York and Smart cases came to the unit’s attention in November. The men’s respective computer use was tracked through their computer registrations and Internet providers. There does not appear to be any direct connection between the two men, other than their common use of the P2P network.

Identifying P2P users, Fleming said, “is a pretty involved process. We have to get the Internet companies involved in it” to associate users with Internet Protocol addresses.

According to McFadden’s affidavit for the arrest of Smart, a Maine State Police forensic analyst was signed on to a Wyoming Web site on Nov. 23 and observed someone signed on to the site and sharing pornography on that date and again on Dec. 6. Based on that observation, the Attorney General’s Office subpoenaed Time Warner to produce the subscriber information associated with the identified IP address, which led to Smart at his home in Mexico.

And, according to his affidavit for the arrest of York, McFadden outlined a similar line of investigation, with York’s computer use first coming to the attention of police on Nov. 23 at the same Wyoming site.

According to police, the IP address associated with York recorded 312 instances of porn downloads as of Dec. 4, and another 16 files shared through March 18. The AG’s Office subpoenaed Comcast to produce the subscriber identification, leading to York’s address in Topsham on Tuesday.

Fleming called the trend of sharing porn on P2P networks a worldwide problem and one on which police are concentrating more resources to track.

According to the NPD Group, a New York-based consumer information service, an estimated 60 percent of all P2P downloads contain pornography, far outpacing downloads for TV shows and mainstream movies.

The problem has become so pervasive that last week, during a U.S. House Government Reform Committee hearing, Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Florida, suggested a government-mandated rating system might be appropriate to monitor the P2P market, much like video games, music and movies carry ratings.

jmeyer@sunjournal.com

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