NPD Officer Robert Fierros

NPD Officer Robert Fierros gives a demonstration of Computer Cop, a program that helps parents monitor what their children are up to on the Internet. 

Tech-savvy kids often outsmart their parents when it comes to using the Internet, but a new program gives parents the chance to level the playing field.

The Nogales Police Department is offering free copies of Computer Cop, a program that searches a computer’s hard-drive for keywords relating to drugs, violence, and pornography and flags them so parents can know what their kids are up to in the virtual world.

During a demonstration of the program on Wednesday with NPD Corp. Robert Fierros, the program flagged the words “gun,” “violence,” “alcoholic,” and “pipe” from an NPD computer. The software also detects slang terms for drug use and current lingo used on social media.

“It’s got a query of keywords that is going to pick up on everything in your computer, basically, but primarily emails, chat-room conversations, and any other software that’s been downloaded on the computer,” Fierros said.

The software seeks out terms in URLs, images, and documents, even those hidden by tech-savvy youngsters.

“It’ll highlight the word and pop that up for the parent so the parent can analyze it and determine if that is something of concern or not,” he said.

The software also includes a tutorial to help parents teach their children how to safely use social media, detect when their child might be the victim of an online predator, and directs parents to the state database of registered sex offenders and other online resources.

The software is designed for laptop and desktop computers, not for mobile devices, Fierros said. However, the parent tutorial includes a link to affiliated software available at UKnowKids.com that works with mobile devices.

NPD purchased 1,050 copies of the CD-ROM, which school resource officers and D.A.R.E. officers will make available to parents at schools. NPD also will distribute free copies at community events, such as job fairs, Red Ribbon Week, and Nogales Night Out.

Parents cannot program their own keywords, but the software includes thousands of keywords. The software can be removed from a computer at any time and will not transfer information from a computer to a database, Fierros said.

The software was purchased with criminal asset forfeiture funds and, due to a promotion with the company, $5,000 in funds translated into $40,000 worth of CD-ROMs.

Privacy concern

For Mia Castillo, a 15-year-old student at Rio Rico High School, the software could be beneficial, but it also raises warning flags of its own.

“I feel like it would be an invasion of my privacy,” she said.

In terms of allowing her mother to see her online activity, Castillo drew the line at letting her see anything beyond which websites she visits.

Access to the conversations she has with friends in chat rooms and instant messaging would take it too far. “I wouldn’t want my Mom to see that much of my personal life,” she said.

Her mother, Renee Felix, 35, an over-the-phone interpreter in Rio Rico, said she already keeps an eye on what Mia is doing online.

“I usually keep track of it, but not every single, little thing,” she said, adding she already has many of her daughter’s passwords.

Keeping track of her daughter’s online activity is important, considering “everything you read in the news,” Felix said, listing cyber-bullying and sexual predators as her main worries.

However, she said, she isn’t sure if she would get a copy of Computer Cop and install it because she trusts Mia and can check and see what she is up to online.

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