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Wyoming Leverages Big Data to Track Down Child Predators

By tapping into the power of Big Data, Wyoming CIO Flint Waters built a tool that helps protect children.

Flint Waters came to his job as CIO for the state of Wyoming from a background in law enforcement. While working for the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, he developed software for use in identifying predators who targeted children.

The software is now used by hundreds of public safety agencies around the world. Prior to his CIO role, he was the chief technology officer for the Internet Crimes Against Children task force. We asked him to explain the evolution of the tool and provide details on its use of Big Data.

STATETECH: What type of software did you develop to identify predators?

WATERS: I developed solutions that could programmatically identify the location of people who were likely to start a hands-on abuse of children and the percentage likelihood that they were going to do that soon. It was a crowdsourced data-gathering tool that allowed us to analytically assess risk to children around the planet. And we interdicted and stopped abuse and rescued tens of thousands of kids.

The software is used in 48 countries now. The way I designed it, I kept it free — it’s now being managed by a nonprofit, and they continue to enhance it and give it away to law enforcement all over the globe. The rescues are unbelievable.

STATETECH: Does the tool use Big Data?

WATERS: It does. When I built it, we weren’t really having Big Data conversations nationally. I started in 2003, and so I just went out and taught myself the technology to build it, and it was all centered on Wyoming.

We used it, we got some great rescues, pulled some kids out that we would have never known were being sexually abused. We started sharing with other agencies in that community and the child protection law enforcement community, which is fairly small. Then it went viral and was adopted everywhere.

You know, we identified over 16 million computers on the planet in the first few years that were actively involved in the exchange of movies depicting child sex abuse. So the reach was unbelievable.

STATETECH: How can IT and analytics aid in the crackdown against child pornography?

WATERS: There is a huge amount of work there. Just as these offenders keep trying to find new ways to leverage the tech to find victims, or leveraging technology to normalize their guilt, Big Data is the perfect way to go in and identify who and what is doing that.

Think about the potential in analytics to help intercept these folks when they are building up their interest, prior to them becoming full-on pedophiles that you can never cure. The average offender had more than 70 victims in their career. Every one of those who you can intersect or intercede on behalf of their victims, that’s 70 kids who aren’t going to get molested. It’s hard to find another measurable that scales like that.

To learn more about Flint Waters' IT expertise, read his Q&A with StateTech about how he led the state's migration to Google Apps.

Jeff Nelson
Apr 15 2016

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