March 12, 2003 5:30 PM PST
Congress cracks down on P2P porn
A pair of government reports scheduled to be released at a hearing on Thursday warn that file-swapping networks are exploding with pornography--much of which is legal, and some of which is not.
Searching for words such as "preteen," "underage" and "incest" on the Kazaa network resulted in a slew of images that qualify as child pornography, the General Accounting Office said in a 37-page report, one of two obtained by CNET News.com. The second report, prepared by staff from the House Government Reform Committee, concluded that current blocking technology has "no, or limited, ability to block access to pornography via file-sharing programs."
The two reports will be released at a hearing titled "Stumbling Onto Smut" that will be convened before the Government Reform Committee on Thursday morning. Among those scheduled to testify are a 9th-grade girl, a 10th-grade boy, a psychologist and Daniel Rung, the chief executive of peer-to-peer company Grokster. Also on the list are a Department of Homeland Security official and Randy Saaf, president of MediaDefender, an antipiracy start-up that tracks peer-to-peer networks.
The GAO used two techniques to identify pornography: evaluating file names and viewing the actual image files. "We used 12 keywords known to be associated with child pornography on the Internet to search for child pornography image files," wrote Linda Koontz, director of information management issues for the GAO. "We identified 1,286 items, each with a title and file name, determining that 543 (about 42 percent) were associated with child pornography images. Of the remaining, 34 percent were classified as adult pornography and 24 percent as non-pornographic."
Using this technique, GAO did not open the image files, which means that mistitled images could be erroneously classified. The GAO's auditors chose not to open them because under federal law, it is illegal to knowingly possess child pornography. The GAO did not disclose which 12 keywords its auditors typed in, except to say they were supplied by law enforcement.
The auditors did, however, ask the U.S. Customs' CyberSmuggling Center to test a smaller number of images found using three keywords related to child pornography. "The CyberSmuggling Center analysis of the 341 downloaded images showed that 149 (about 44 percent) of the downloaded images contained child pornography," the report says. "The center classified the remaining images as child erotica (13 percent), adult pornography (29 percent), or non-pornographic (14 percent)."
The committee staff did not respond to a request for comment on the reports because they had not been released yet.
The release of the reports will come at a time when Congress is increasingly focused on the Internet, children and pornography, and could presage more legislation aimed at curbing online indecency. Congress' first two attempts to restrict sexually explicit Web sites have been rejected by courts, and last week the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments over a law tying filtering software with federal grants to libraries.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Child Pornography Prevention Act, which banned any image that "appears to be" of an unclad youth in what could be viewed as an erotic or sexually suggestive pose. "First Amendment freedoms are most in danger when the government seeks to control thought or to justify its laws for that impermissible end," a 6-3 majority of the justices wrote. "The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from the government because speech is the beginning of thought."
David Greene, director of the First Amendment Project in Oakland, Calif., said the two reports use the old definition of child pornography that existed before the Supreme Court's ruling. "They don't indicate that the images they identify as child pornography would meet the (Supreme Court's) definition of child pornography," Greene said. "So it's hard to assess the significance of the finding without knowing (whether) what they found would be illegal child pornography, or whether it's legal computer-generated images that appear to be child pornography...which would be a waste of money to direct law enforcement funds. That is potentially an enormous hole in the report."
Green added: "It's hard to assess the methodology, because we don't know the search terms that they used. That makes it difficult to assess how likely it is that a child will stumble across pornographic images inadvertently."
Of the 177 images the CyberSmuggling Center downloaded from Kazaa using "three keywords representing the names of a popular female singer, child actors and a cartoon character," it classified only two as falling into the category of child pornography. The remainder would be legal to possess--and legal to distribute assuming they did not violate other restrictions such as obscenity or copyright laws.
In July 2001, the same committee, headed by Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), released a report titled Children?s Access to Pornography Through Internet File-Sharing Programs that struck a similar cautionary tone. It warned, "Teenagers who use these programs to search for music or videos of popular artists can be unexpectedly inundated by files containing explicit pornographic content."
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