May 14, 2004 3:37 PM PDT

Feds target P2P child porn

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A coalition of federal law enforcement agencies announced a new push against child pornography on file-swapping networks, citing undercover operations ongoing since the fall of 2003.

More than 65 people have been arrested as a result of more than 350 searches of computers and computer equipment, the agencies said Friday. Popular file-swapping companies quickly chimed in, saying they had supported the investigation, which was code-named Operation Peer Pressure by the FBI.

"No one should be able to avoid prosecution for contributing to the abuse and exploitation of the nation's children," Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a statement. "The Department of Justice stands side-by-side with our partners in the law enforcement community to pursue those who victimize our children under the perceived, but false, cloak of anonymity that the peer-to-peer networks provide."

The issue of child pornography on peer-to-peer networks has taken considerable prominence over the past year, much as it did in earlier years for the broader Internet.

A handful of lawmakers have criticized peer-to-peer software companies for failing to block the distribution of illegal materials including child pornography and copyrighted songs and movies. While testifying in front of Congress last year, Recording Industry Association of America executives--who have long sought to close file-swapping networks for copyright infringement--also began citing the dangers of child pornography on networks such as Kazaa.

Skeptics have noted that the danger from peer-to-peer networks is no more than the Internet at large, which also potentially exposes children to pornography and serves as a conduit for illicit material.

File-swapping companies and their representatives were quick to note they supported the law enforcement efforts.

We "unanimously praise the enforcement actions of the FBI, with whom we have worked cooperatively since October 2003," the Distributed Computing Industry Association, a group representing Kazaa parent Sharman Networks and joint venture partner Altnet, said in a statement. "DCIA members supported the covert operations, and the DCIA is working with the FBI to introduce deterrents and education programs in the coming months."

A recent law imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison for people convicted of distributing child pornography over the Net. Sentences could range as high as 20 years, or 40 years if the defendant has committed a prior sex offense.

The investigations have included work by the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, state police and the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces, which include numerous federal and state agencies.

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