"Just imagine the smartest people in the world ... put on the worst problem in the world." ~ David Keith, PROTECT
With over 4,000 scientists and staff and the most powerful "open science" supercomputers in the world, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) says its mission is "to provide solutions to America's grand scientific challenges."
Now, the Oak Ridge research community may be taking on its grandest and most important challenge since the legendary World War II "Manhattan Project."
Computer scientists from ORNL are targeting hundreds of thousands of child pornography traffickers and their victims.
The Oak Ridge project was launched when PROTECT, the National Association to Protect Children, and the University of Tennessee's Law Enforcement Innovation Center (LEIC) brought together Oak Ridge scientists and anti-child exploitation investigators to talk about ways of working together. Bedford County, Virginia Sheriff Mike Brown, a board member of LEIC, made the first introductions. Knoxville Police Department (KPD) officers, led by Chief Sterling Owen IV, gave the scientists a detailed look into the technological challenges facing law enforcement. [As the Oak Ridge project picks up steam, the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force participants say they will be reaching out to colleagues across America, seeking input and partnership.]
The Oak Ridge scientists, led by ORNL's Tom Potok and Steve Payne, were galvanized. Within days, a delegation from Oak Ridge made the first of many visits to the KPD's ICAC task force. Within weeks, a growing team of volunteer Oak Ridge developers began designing software and hardware for their friends on the law enforcement front lines. The project was off and running.
The Oak Ridge project's potential is enormous, says PROTECT Executive Director Grier Weeks. "Congress recognized the crucial importance of technology in the PROTECT Our Children Act of 2008, but federal progress on the technology front has not taken off.
"There's been a government-wide disconnect, where it is understood that cyber-security and economic crimes require serious resources, but it's somehow assumed that volunteers and micro grants are enough to drive child rescue technology. Our hope is that when Washington sees the inspiration and passion for rescuing children coming out of one of America's finest scientific research centers, a light will go on for many people. We can really do this, and this is the way."