ISPs take major step in curbing child porn
Three major firms agreed June 10 to purge images from their Web servers.
US law enforcement officials have some new deputies in their efforts to control child pornography: big telecommunications firms that provide Internet service to millions of Americans.Skip to next paragraph
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On June 10, New York state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced that Verizon, Sprint, and Time Warner Cable have agreed to block access to child pornography and eliminate it from their servers. The move will affect customers of these companies nationwide.
In the past, Internet service providers (ISPs) have been reluctant to block specific content, arguing that they were portals, not hosts – and that the freewheeling nature of the Web would blunt any attempt at such regulation.
But controlling explicit images of children via pursuit and prosecution of individual users is a slow and tedious process, note experts. Knocking out the means of distribution of child pornography may be a better approach.
The agreement between New York state authorities and Verizon, Sprint, and Time Warner grew out of an undercover investigation of child-porn newsgroups, Attorney General Cuomo said. In the past, he has used similar probes and the possibility of bringing charges to extract concessions on Internet safety.
As part of the pact announced Tuesday, the ISPs will also donate $1 million to a fund to help remove online child pornography disseminated in the past by their users.
The firms themselves said they acted immediately to shut down offending sites after being contacted by Cuomo's office.
"There are people doing whatever they do on the Internet all the time, and we can't possibly scan every user group," said Verizon spokesman Eric Rabe. "But there are some things we can do and as soon as it's brought to our attention, we work very quickly."
Eliminating material that flows through an Internet service provider is not quite as easy as, say, eliminating offensive magazines from news dealers, however. It might even prove to be as difficult as trying to regulate the contents of conversations carried by voice phone providers.
The June 10 provider pact might slow down child pornographers for awhile, says Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank near Washington. But in the end it might simply cause them to operate in a more surreptitious manner, perhaps by encrypting their images.