Peer to peer (or P2P) file sharing involves copying files from one computer to another. This is done through specific software that accesses a P2P hub and finds other computers that are similarly connected. The user's computer searches other computers for the sought material. This is done with no direct interaction with the owners of the other computers. P2P is used to download music, movies, books, games and other digital media. For example, if a person is looking for a particular type of picture, they go online and enter the search terms in their computer’s search engine that will then find those pictures. Their computer goes to the P2P hub, finds the pictures, uploads copies from the other computers, and then downloads the images to the user's computer . There are concerns that such sharing can violate copyright law. Most young people who are surveyed do not feel it is wrong to download a copy of a movie, but they are adamant they never would shoplift the DVD. Such sharing constitutes millions of interactions daily.
Pornography is purported to be the number one use of the Internet. P2P sharing of child porn has become so easy that it is rampant. There are untold numbers (probably many millions) of personal computers with pornography available for trading at no cost to each other. People with an interest in child porn have learned this is the easiest way to obtain images. Gone are the days of tedious searches for a source, the embarrassment of asking for such images, and having to settle for grainy black and white pictures of rather tame themes by today’s standards. Also gone are the days of download speeds so slow that one still image took a minute to fully appear. Some programs can be scheduled to run at night, and in the morning the searcher looks to see how many thousands of images were downloaded.
The simplicity of using this technology has lead many people to view child porn, even though they had not previously made any effort to do so. Curiosity, boredom, jaded sexual appetites all can lead someone to seek images. There are specific key words that users enter for searches, but the actual images received may have little similarity to what was sought. For example, searching “Lolita” may result in a compressed file with images including not only 'tween girls, but preschool girls, boys, adults, animals—there’s really no way to know for sure what will arrive in your inbox.
The interactive nature of P2P sharing has enabled law enforcement to locate computers that contain illegal images. Once they have viewed the images and verified they appear to be child porn, a search warrant can identify the physical address associated with the Internet address. Another search warrant leads to confiscation and searches of the person’s devices capable of web browsing or file storage, and charges often follow. Even if a person is callous and insensitive enough to view child porn with no regard for the harm done to the children in the images, they should think of how they jeopardize their own freedom. Many of the defendants I have talked with about these downloads said they assumed law enforcement was too busy to bother with them, or they weren’t aware of how P2P operated and that their computers could be accessed as well.