Child Porn, Caught in a Web

Federal law enforcers, working with other police officials around the United States and abroad, have taken a needed step toward cleaning up the World Wide Web.

One of the least attractive facets of that remarkable technological phenomenon has been its widespread use by the merchants of pornography. The cracking of a child porn ring headed by a couple in Texas has put a dent, at least, in that illegal trade.

A two-year investigation, resulting in sentences of 1,335 years for the husband involved, and 14 years for his wife, should send a message to others tempted to enter, or continue in, this criminal activity. Most important, the FBI, Postal Service inspectors, and others showed they have the means to detect and track down such perpetrators.

Authorities in Russia and Indonesia are pursuing "Web masters" who worked with the Texas couple, setting up and maintaining porn websites. Most of the children used on the sites and tapes are believed to be from outside the US.

And not only the perpetrators are being pursued, but their customers are, too, since in the US it is illegal to buy or possess child pornography. The "sting" methods used to find the porn buyers have raised some criticism from civil libertarians. Such methods must be applied with care, but the complex nature of this crime, and its seriousness, justifies their use.

A basic problem is the demand for pornography, and the large sums of money it generates. The Texas-based ring had 250,000 subscribers worldwide. Experts note a jump in child porn websites of more than 300 percent in the past 15 months.

This vice demands vigilance all around, from top law enforcement to parents monitoring what their own children may find on the Web.

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