A “really rotten day” at work in late January prompted a just-about-had-it Toronto police officer to e-mail a spontaneous plea to the world's richest man for help fighting child pornography. “To be real honest, I didn't expect anything back. I didn't even save the e-mail,” said Detective Sgt. Paul Gillespie, a 25-year veteran of the Toronto force.
BUT HIS EFFORT paid off. Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates forwarded the e-mail to Microsoft Canada. “Three weeks later, I got a call. They said, 'We'd like to talk to you about your e-mail,” Gillespie recalled.
Microsoft and the Toronto police, where Gillespie is in charge of the child exploitation section, are now developing software that will make it easier for police to investigate the dissemination of child pornography on the Internet. They hope to complete an initial version of the software in a month.
The software is designed to store copies of all the images police find, creating a searchable database that can help them uncover similarities between cases. It can also analyze pictures and classify those that are child pornography, largely automating a job that consumes a huge amount of police labor.
“I just wondered if there was a possibility of designing ... software to assist some of our investigators,” Gillespie said. “At least so they don't have to always go look at these awful images ... and have nightmares every night.”
Microsoft Canada has already invested $450,000 in the software project, which got under way in February, and does not know what the final cost will be.
Gates, a college drop-out, is worth an estimated $41 billion and his philanthropic foundation, with an endowment of $24 billion, has made large donations to global health initiatives among other causes. Microsoft said it could not say why Gates chose to support the Toronto project but that the effort is part of the company's contribution to improving the Internet.
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