Philip Jenkins notes that there is "overwhelming evidence that [child pornography] is all but impossible to obtain through nonelectronic means." The Internet has radically changed how child pornography is reproduced and disseminated, and, according to the United States Department of Justice, resulted in a massive increase in the "availability, accessibility, and volume of child pornography." The production of child pornography has become very profitable and is no longer limited to paedophiles.
Digital cameras and Internet distribution facilitated by the use of credit cards and the ease of transferring images across national borders has made it easier than ever before for users of child pornography to obtain the photographs and videos. The NCMEC estimated in 2003 that 20% of all pornography traded over the Internet was child pornography, and that since 1997 the number of child pornography images available on the Internet had increased by 1500%.
In 2007, the British-based Internet Watch Foundation reported that child pornography on the Internet is becoming more brutal and graphic, and the number of images depicting violent abuse has risen fourfold since 2003. The CEO stated "The worrying issue is the severity and the gravity of the images is increasing. We're talking about prepubescent children being raped." About 80 percent of the children in the abusive images are female, and 91 percent appear to be children under the age of 12. Prosecution is difficult because multiple international servers are used, sometimes to transmit the images in fragments to evade the law. Some child pornographers also circumvent detection by using viruses to illegally gain control of computers on which they remotely store child pornography. In one case, a Massachusetts man was charged with possession of child pornography when hackers used his computer to access pornographic sites and store pornographic pictures without his knowledge. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has ruled that if a user downloads child pornography from a file sharing network and possesses it in his "shared folder" without configuring the software to not share that content, he can be charged with distributing child pornography.
Regarding internet proliferation, the U.S. Department of Justice states that "At any one time there are estimated to be more than one million pornographic images of children on the Internet, with 200 new images posted daily." They also note that a single offender arrested in the U.K. possessed 450,000 child pornography images, and that a single child pornography site received a million hits in a month. Further, that much of the trade in child pornography takes place at hidden levels of the Internet, and that it has been estimated that there are between 50,000 and 100,000 paedophiles involved in organised pornography rings around the world, and that one third of these operate from the United States.
One massive international child pornography ring was centered in the Netherlands. In the largest ever operation of its kind, police in 30 countries arrested 184 suspects and identified 486 others. Dutch authorities arrested 37-year-old Israeli-born Dutch citizen Amir Ish-Hurwitz, founder and owner of the internet forum Boylover.net, the center of the ring. At its peak, the forum had more than 70,000 members around the world.
In 2008, the Google search engine adapted a software program in order to faster track child pornography accessible through their site. The software is based in a pattern recognition engine.
Collector behavior and motives
Viewers of child pornography who are pedophiles are particularly obsessive about collecting, organizing, categorizing, and labeling their child pornography collection according to age, gender, sex act and fantasy. According to FBI agent Ken Lanning, "collecting" pornography does not mean that they merely view pornography, but that they save it, and "it comes to define, fuel, and validate their most cherished sexual fantasies." An extensive collection indicates a strong sexual preference for children, and if a collector of child pornography is also a pedophile, the owned collection is the single best indicator of what he or she wants to do. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children describes researchers Taylor and Quayle's analysis of pedophile pornography collecting:
The obsessive nature of the collecting and the narrative or thematic links for collections, led to the building of social communities on the internet dedicated to extending these collections. Through these "virtual communities" collectors are able to downgrade the content and abusive nature of the collections, see the children involved as objects rather than people, and their own behaviour as normal: It is an expression of 'love' for children rather than abuse.
These offenders are likely to employ elaborate security measures to avoid detection. The US DOJ notes that "there is a core of veteran offenders, some of whom have been active in pedophile newsgroups for more than 20 years, who possess high levels of technological expertise," also noting that pedophile bulletin boards often contain technical advice from child pornography users' old hands to newcomers."
A 1986 U.S. Senate report found that motives for people's collecting child pornography include arousal and gratification; validation and justification of pedophile behaviour; to show the images to children to lower their inhibitions to engage in sex; preservation of an image of a child at the age of sexual preference; blackmail of depicted individuals; a medium of exchange and communication with other child pornography consumers; and profit. A 2012 U.S. Sentencing Commission report found that child pornography offenders, while "much more likely to be sexually aroused by children than contact sex offenders or the general population", can also have non-sexual motives for collecting child pornography, including initial curiosity, compulsive collecting behaviors, avoidance of stress and dissatisfaction with life, and an ability to create a new and more socially successful identity (within an online community). Some offenders find collecting child pornography enjoyable regardless of whether the images are sexually exciting to them; their interest is in assembling complete sets and organizing the material as a pastime, analogously to what a stamp collector might do.
Child sex tourism
Sex tourists created one source of child pornography that is distributed worldwide. Most of the victims of child sex tourism reside in the developing countries of the world. In 1996, a court in Thailand convicted a German national of child molestation and production of pornography for commercial purposes; he was involved in a child pornography ring which exploited Thai children. A sizable portion of the pornography seized in Sweden and in the Netherlands in the 1990s was produced by sex tourists visiting Southeast Asia. INTERPOL works with its 190 member countries to combat the problem, and launched its first-ever successful global appeal for assistance in 2007 to identify a Canadian man, Christopher Paul Neil, featured in a series of around 200 photographs in which he was shown sexually abusing young Vietnamese and Cambodian children.
Organized crime is involved in the production and distribution of child pornography, which is found as a common element of organized crime profiles. Organized into groups to produce and distribute pornography, they are often called "sex rings." In 2003, an international police investigation uncovered a Germany-based child pornography ring involving 26,500 suspects who swapped illegal images on the Internet in 166 different countries. In a 2006 case, US and international authorities charged 27 people in nine states and three countries in connection with a child pornography ring that US federal authorities described as "one of the worst" they have discovered. The assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement added that the case reflected three larger trends that are becoming more common in child pornography rings. One is the increasing prevalence of "home-grown" pornographic images that are produced by predators themselves, and include live streaming video images of children being abused, not just the circulation of repeated images. Another trend is the growing use of sophisticated security measures and of peer-to-peer networking, in which participants can share files with one another on their computers rather than downloading them from a web site. The group used encryption and data destruction software to protect the files and screening measures to ensure only authorized participants could enter the chat room. A third trend is the increasingly violent and graphic nature of the images involving the abuse of younger children.
According to Jim Gamble, CEO of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, around 50 per cent of sites showing children being abused are operated on a pay-per-view basis. "The people involved in these sites often aren't doing it because they're deviant by nature. They're doing it because they're business people. It's risk versus profits. We need to reduce the profit motivation." The CEOPP was established in 2006, and targets the finances of organised criminal gangs selling images of child abuse.
The majority of child pornography seized in the United States is not produced or distributed for profit, and there is little evidence that organized criminals operating with a profit motivation are a major source of child pornography's international dissemination.