ISPs Aim to Choke Child Porn Traffic

Three Internet service providers have agreed to be more proactive in policing the dissemination of child pornography across their networks.

In response to some prodding by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Verizon, Time Warner Cable and Sprint Nextel have agreed to block access to Web sites, bulletin boards and newsgroups engaged in the promotion of child pornography. The ISPs have agreed to reference a list provided by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the course of monitoring their traffic for offenders.

The companies will also implement processes to speed their responses to user complaints and alerts regarding child porn. Finally, they are each kicking in US$375,000 to fund efforts by child protection advocates to develop broader tech solutions designed to stifle such online activity.

If they stand up to likely legal challenges, these measures will go far in getting child porn off the Internet, Kevin McDonald, executive vice president of Alvaka Networks and chairman of government affairs at Web Wise Kids, a national organization committed to teaching kids about online safety, told the E-Commerce Times.

Derailing Distribution

Most child porn is produced overseas and then is exported to the United States over the Internet, McDonald said. “Anything that can be done to cut off supply and distribution is a victory.”

Child pornographers have gained a disturbingly large percent of market share since the advent of the Internet. At one time, only hard-core pornographers and their customers had access to it.

With the Internet, it became easy for anyone to obtain. “People began thinking if it was so easy to find, and there were so many people looking at it, then it must not be wrong,” commented McDonald.

In the early days of the Internet, all one had to do was type in Lolita and click, he continued. Since then, child porn has been driven to the Web underground — but is still relatively easy to find.

“I am hopeful, with the ISPs choking off supply, its consumption will decline,” McDonald said.

New Weapons

This announcement is the latest development to encourage child protection advocates. Last month, in a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the Protect Act, which allows the prosecution of child pornographers or their customers who ask to buy or offer to sell child porn.

What was notable about the ruling was that it freed prosecutors to pursue anyone offering to buy or sell child pornography, even if it was created using virtual images rather than actual children — a practice that was allowed under the 2003 Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition ruling.

“Offers to provide or requests to obtain child pornography are categorically excluded from the First Amendment,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority.

The latest ruling gives prosecutors and law enforcement agencies, often daunted by advances in technology, a much-needed weapon in their war against child abuse.

“Child pornography, before the emergence of the Internet, was considerably marginalized if not actually on its way to extinction, because it was so hard for people to get their hands on it,” said Alexander H. Southwell, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan and now an attorney with Gibson Dunn & Crutcher White Collar Defense & Investigations.

“The Internet brought back child porn with a vengeance, making it easier to collect and distribute,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Secure computing technology also made it more difficult to prosecute, he added. Often, collectors were able to scrub their computers clean in time to avoid charges.

As a practical matter, the Supreme Court’s decision may affect only a small subset of cases.

“Most child porn prosecutions can be prosecuted on different statutes,” such as possession or distribution, Southwell said.

“Anti-pandering laws can be used in those cases where prosecutors don’t have evidence that someone procured or sold the porn but do have evidence that that person was trying to,” he explained. “It is a narrow slice of the cases out there — but an important slice.”

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