International Effort Protects Children Online
By Jay Lyman
This story appeared in the July/August 2004 issue of Web Host Industry Review magazine. Click here to subscribe for free.
June 16, 2004 -- (WEB HOST INDUSTRYREVIEW) -- Officials from the UK, Australia and the US are increasingtheir presence online, collaborating in an international effort tocapture pedophiles operating on the Internet.
Jim Gamble, assistant chief constable for the UK National Crime Squad (nationalcrimesquad.police.co.uk)says the organizations intend to place a round-the-clock lawenforcement presence on the Internet by getting more officers active inchat rooms and by helping to find and prosecute pedophiles who view andtrade child pornography online.
Law enforcement is calling on ISPs andWeb hosts to help officials track down the plague of pedophiles thatabuse and exploit children using the Internet. But Web hosts also havethe privacy of users in general to keep in mind, which, in combinationwith a fear of reporting all incidents to law enforcement, makes theissue particularly difficult.
"[ISPs and Web hosts] are in an uneasy position," says Frost & Sullivan (frost.com)senior analyst Mukul Krishna. "They have to protect the privacy of theuser, but they also have a responsibility to work for the largersociety and community. They have to sort of balance the two."
Citing recent talks at the Organizationfor Security and Cooperation in Europe conference over the issue ofonline hate sites and their hosts â€“ where some European leaders such asFrench Foreign Minister Michel Barnier called for more responsibilityfrom providers â€“ Krishna says there is more value in tracking suchracist sites than in taking them down.
However, when it comes to pedophiles,Krishna says the sites must clearly come down and their users must beaggressively prosecuted, adding his praise for international efforts toincrease law enforcement's presence in the world of child porn.
"No one considers [child porn] freespeech," Krishna says. "It's a simple black and white situation. Thereare so many shades of gray in other situations."
The latest effort involves putting apolice presence, and possibly a logo, in Internet chat rooms to assureusers that the police may be perusing and protecting users frompredatory participants. The idea is to discourage pedophiles fromcommunicating with and possibly luring children into harm either onlineor, as has increasingly been the case, offline. Late last year, theUK's National Crime Squad also collaborated with nations, including theUS, Canada and Australia, and Interpol on a sting operation to trappedophiles.
Certainly, the Web hosting and widerindustry is on board to help law enforcement root out pedophiles thatuse the Internet to exploit and prey upon children, but how muchresponsibility can service providers take?Krishna agrees that with running multiple servers, updating a lot ofcontent, and the basic resources expended on providing reliable,redundant hosting, Web hosts have little left to expend on screening orspying on content.
"That is their business model -- theyhost," he says. "They don't have the resources to monitor all of theWeb sites they have. It's physically impossible for any ISP or hostingservice to keep track of all of their resources. The best they can dois look into complaints they get and work with law enforcement."Krishna says closer interaction is enabling law enforcement, beyondjust monitoring, to work with the industry to determine what warrantsaction. He refers to the practice of providers hiring former lawenforcement officers to help them respond appropriately to bothincidents and the police.
Stewart Baker, an attorney and partner with Washington DC-based Internet and technology law firm Steptoe & Johnson (steptoe.com),says the days when law enforcement agencies would seize machines fromservice providers are pretty much over, and there is generally goodcooperation between providers and police. However, says Baker, it isdifficult for both hosts and law enforcement to keep track of a movingpedophile target.
"My impression," he says, "is thatpractically all of the use of Web hosts [for child porn] is unwittingand it's not uncommon for people to set something up for three days andtake it down again. When it's that fast, by the time there's acomplaint, the material is gone."
Baker â€“ who suggests companies continuetheir own efforts to discourage child porn and abuse, and respond toalerts from users and police â€“ said international cooperation will bekey to putting down pedophiles."There are differences in procedure and legal standards andinvestigation that really have to be worked out almost country bycountry," Baker says. "There is a substantial amount of jurisdiction.But the English-speaking countries have gotten pretty good at talkingwith each other and the other European jurisdictions are alsoresponsive."
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