Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $750,000)
During the COVID-19 pandemic, technology-facilitated crimes against children increased exponentially in quantity, sophistication, and severity. Despite the prevalence of online sexual exploitation of children, the majority of ICAC Task Forces and state, local, and tribal law enforcement personnel lack access to user-friendly investigative tools, methods, and technologies to address these crimes. Many open-source intelligence tools exist, but most are not affordable for law enforcement agencies. The free open-source resources available online either require advanced knowledge of intelligence techniques or provide only limited investigative utility. The end result of the current open-source intelligence landscape is that most ICAC affiliates lack an accessible, user-friendly tool to efficiently locate evidence on a broad range of social media platforms and online data sources. Child exploitation cases are challenging and complex even under the best of circumstances. The enormous amount of cyber data, tips, and cases and the lack of high-quality training and resources require new tools and methods. To address the needs of ICAC Task Forces and affiliates, Zero Abuse will implement the Strengthening ICAC Investigative Tools and Technologies Project. The goal of the Project is to develop, enhance, and refine widely used investigative tools, methods, and technologies that address child sexual abuse material, exploitation, and sex trafficking. Zero Abuse will accomplish this by integrating and streamlining the functions of numerous social media and open-source intelligence tools into a single, simple user interface – the Nexus for Open-source Virtual Assistance (NOVA) tool - that will be free and accessible to any law enforcement officer conducting child exploitation and trafficking investigations. Zero Abuse will also develop training modules and best practice guides to build the capacity of investigators and prosecutors to evaluate and utilize digital forensic tools and evidence. Through the Project, Zero Abuse will: (1) evaluate existing ICAC investigative and digital forensic tools, identify gaps in these tools, and determine the digital forensic needs of ICAC investigators, (2) design, create, and test the Nexus for Open-source Virtual Assistance (NOVA) tool for ICAC Task Forces and affiliates and state, local, and tribal law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies; (3)launch and broadly promote NOVA for law enforcement use; (4) develop best practices and training modules to build the capacity of ICAC Task Forces, affiliates, law enforcement, and prosecutors to evaluate and utilize digital forensic evidence, and (5) enhance NOVA’s functionality with advanced features determined by ICAC investigators and industry experts to meet the field’s most pressing needs.