Detective Daniel Ichige, project manager for SVICAC, Chaoyi Du, and Calvin Liang (left to right). Photo by Alex Fedosov.
software applications created by University of San Francisco computer science
students forgo the “gotcha” moment of Dateline NBC’s “To Catch a Predator,” but
are designed to help police capture child sex predators just the same.
programs, developed last fall by graduate students Chaoyi Du ’12, Chengzhi (Calvin)
Liang ’12, and alum Xinli Feng ’11, crawl the web hunting for child pornography.
The programs then track the files and compile dossiers on the as-yet unknown
people illegally trading it.
A fourth program,
developed by undergraduate Simon Piel ’12, uses information gathered by the
three-program suite by identifying specific culprit computers and therefore
individuals that share such files over peer-to-peer networks.
were designed with guidance from the Silicon Valley Internet Crimes Against
Children (SVICAC) Task Force, which includes the eleven Bay Area counties, the FBI,
and others. Du, Liang, and Feng’s suite of applications won best project at
USF’s Computer Science Night in December. Piel’s wireless network analysis
application earned runner-up.
“As a CS
professor at USF, I believe we should be utilizing technology in the service of
humanity,” said Patricia Francis-Lyon, assistant professor of computer science,
who advised the three graduate students.
and her son Sean, a software engineer at online game company IMVU, conceived of
the project, drawing inspiration from USF business Professor David Batstone’s
Not For Sale Campaign, an international nonprofit that combats human
trafficking, and discussions with David J. Johnson, a retired San Jose police
detective who was previously a member of SVICAC. Piel’s project was conceived
of and advised by Eunjin Jung, USF assistant professor of computer science.
tools come just in time for National Child Abuse Prevention Month, which is
April, and will or have the potential to help authorities use technology in new
ways to immeasurably improve FBI and police efforts to build cases against
criminals who harm children, Johnson said. “The sheer volume of traffic in
contraband files is so vast that it has been compared to trying to catch a cup
of water from a running fire hose,” Johnson said.
plans to fine-tune the programs through beta testing in the coming months, and
then, hopefully, share them with similar taskforces throughout the nation, said
SVICAC commander Sgt. Greg Lombardo.
who focused mostly on game development as an undergraduate computer science
student, said he didn’t realize how big a deal the project was until officers
saw a demonstration of what the USF students’ programs could do. “They told us
it would have a real-world impact,” said Liang, who, as a result, has become
more interested in the data-mining side of software development.
programs could be just the beginning with more research and development to come
on the topic, said Piel, who hopes additional USF students take up the cause
and improve on what’s already been done.