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National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre (NCECC) - Fact Sheets - Webcams



What is it?
A Webcam is a digital camera that can be plugged into the Universal Serial Bus (USB) or Firewire port on a computer.

How does it work?
A Webcam can work in two (2) ways:

1. File Transfer Protocol (FTP) Upload
When setup to film, software enables the camera to capture the picture every X seconds and sends the image to the hosted website using File Transfer Protocol. The picture is then downloaded onto your webpage and refreshed every X seconds.

There are three (3) different types of upload methods:

  • Meta-Refresh - At a set interval chosen by the user, the entire page will reload on the visitor’s web browser. If your webcam program has sent a new image to the server, the page will now show the updated image. This method can be very slow if many graphics appear on the page.
  • Java - Many webcam sites use a java program to display their webcam images. It is reliable and, unlike meta-refresh, only the image reloads as opposed to the entire page.
  • Streaming Video - The streaming video method is a rapid series of images shown on a webpage that gives an almost real time view to your visitors.

2. Streaming Method
The camera's software acts as a server for this method. The image is directly loaded from the computer where the camera is connected.

A Closer Look
With technology developing at a fast pace, webcams are evolving into an item of everyday use.

Implications for Law Enforcement, Parents, and Youth
There are many concerns for law enforcement that need to be considered with regard to the use of webcams and the sexual exploitation of children.

With technology rapidly evolving, webcams are now wireless and can be concealed almost anywhere. Some require a power cord, however some of the more expensive wireless video surveillance webcams will work on batteries and a receiver within 100 feet which allows for multiple recording from several different angles.

In addition to wireless webcams, they are also being manufactured smaller, making them a very popular tool for child sexual offenders as they can be concealed in several places (i.e.: in a room, on a person).

Since most webcams use a medium-level video resolution to keep the file size down, the video produced by the webcam is not equal to that of a high quality video camera. Also, unless the picture is taken in close proximity to the subject, the picture quality of most webcams is gritty.

The use of Trojan files (a program that appears legitimate, however once opened or installed will cause damage to your computer) has, in the past, led to the manipulation and exploitation of children. If someone has sent a Trojan file to a child’s computer, it is possible for the individual to gain remote access to that computer including any peripheral devices such as a webcam. The images or video file created by the offender could then be used to blackmail the child in an effort to gain additional footage or an in-person meeting.

Wireless or not, webcams can easily be concealed in a room with limited light. While this technology is often used by child sexual offenders it can also be used by youth involved in consenting sexual relationships. For example, youth sending real time images to one another. While both may be consenting at the time, the reality is that those images cannot be erased (at any time) and can be distributed by either party.

Canadian law enforcement is currently investigating such cases where one of the people have distributed the images. It is imperative that youth be made aware of the permanency and future implications of images that are available on the Internet. As well, there are criminal consequences when one of the parties shares the material without the other’s consent as this now becomes a case of distributing child pornography if the youth are underage.

Webcams are currently being used to meet the demand for two different types of child pornography. The first, streaming video, allows other individuals to view a sexual assault occurring in real time. If the abuser is part of a child sexual abuse network, viewers can potentially request specific forms of abuse to be performed on the child. The second trend that is increasing and made possible via a webcam relates to the sharing of audio files of child sexual abuse.

As webcam technology improves, it will continue to have negative impacts on children and youth in respect to exploitation. As the number of people engaging with webcams increases, the potential risks as outlined above also increase. Educating youth on the dangers and implications associated with sharing images via webcams will help to limit those risks.

Server: A computer or device on a network used to manage network resources.

IP address : A number that uniquely identifies every host on a network.

FTP: File Transfer Protocol, used to exchange files over the Internet.


Produced by:
The National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre
Strategic and Operations Support Services
Research and Development Division