US software engineer uses AI and creates trove of 'realistic images' of child porn


The US Justice Department claims that a software developer from western Wisconsin used artificial intelligence to create child pornographic photos, some of which he sent to a teenage boy. — Image by drobotdean on Freepik

A software engineer from western Wisconsin used his artificial intelligence skills to produce hundreds, if not thousands, of images of child pornography and sent some of them to a teenage boy, according to the US Justice Department.

Steven Anderegg, 42, of Onalaska, was indicted by a grand jury in US District Court on charges of producing, distributing and possessing obscene visual depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct and then transferring some of the material to a 15-year-old boy.

Anderegg, who was charged earlier this year in state court with sexually assaulting a minor, remains in federal custody pending a detention hearing on Wednesday.

"The Justice Department will aggressively pursue those who produce and distribute child sexual abuse material – or CSAM – no matter how that material was created," Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, the Justice Department's second-ranking official, said in a statement issued from Washington. "Put simply, CSAM generated by AI is still CSAM."

According to court documents:

In the final months of last year, Anderegg used a text-to-image generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) model called Stable Diffusion to create thousands of realistic images of prepubescent minors engaging in various sexual acts either alone or with men.

Anderegg connected with a 15-year-old boy and explained how he used the model to convert his text prompts into the pornographic images. He then sent direct messages of some of the images to the boy on Instagram.

He also discussed on Instagram his desire to sexually assault boys and added that he was married and has a child.

Anderegg came to the attention of law enforcement in November through tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children after Instagram reported him to the center.

Law enforcement searched his home at the time, just outside Onalaska in Holmen, in February and seized his work computer from his office, a personal laptop, two cellphones and other devices.

"He had on this laptop over 13,000 GenAI images, with hundreds – if not thousands – of these images" depicting child pornography, read a prosecution document filed Monday.

The filing noted that Anderegg has been a software engineer since 2003 and has a job with a startup that taps his "excellent technical understanding in formulating AI models."

Soon after the search, Anderegg was charged in La Crosse County District Court in March with first-degree sexual assault of a child and two counts of exposing a child to harmful material.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse, launched in May 2006 by the Justice Department. The initiative marshals federal, state and local resources toward finding, arresting and charging suspects who exploit children via the internet, as well as to identify victims. – Star Tribune/Tribune News Service

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