“The pervasiveness of child pornography on the Internet is horrific and it
needs to be stopped,” said New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, speaking in
a press release. “We are attacking this problem by working with Internet
Service Providers to ensure they do not play host to this immoral
business. I commend the companies that have stepped up today to embrace a
new standard of responsibility, which should serve as a model for the entire
Usenet – one of the internet’s oldest applications – dates back to a time
long before the World Wide Web. Its popularity died down as web sites and
web-based message boards came into vogue, relegating it to a forgotten “back
alley” frequented by niche crowds. One thing Usenet hasn’t been forgotten for,
however, is its ability to store and distribute files such as music and, in
this case, pornography.
Traditionally, ISPs have stayed out of enforcing restrictions on what its
users’ access, citing the legal immunity granted to them by maintaining
a policy of noninterference. That immunity has come under attack from a
wide variety of sources. Previous aggressors include the content
industry, frustrated with ISPs’ permissive stance on piracy, as well as the
ISPs’ themselves as they explore ways to further monetize their infrastructure.
Now, with its investigation concluding, ISPs can add the New York state
Attorney General’s office to that list.
Investigators had to take an unusual course of action, however. Traditional
approaches failed; ISPs responded with a routine disclaimer of responsibility
for the content of their networks. Instead, investigators chose to invoke a
section of each their service agreements that promised to take action against
users who distribute child porn; when the contacted ISPs failed to act after
receiving a series of anonymous complaints from investigators, the Attorney
General’s office pounced by threatening to charge them with fraud and deceptive
business practices. The ensuing agreement was a result of these threats.
Cuomo says the unconventional approach was necessary, because traditional
methods are not working. Attacking individual distributors has “limited
effectiveness,” he said, because American demand for child pornography is
internationally, frequently hailing from countries doing little in the way
“The ISPs’ point had been, ‘We’re not responsible, these are individuals
communicating with individuals, we’re not responsible,’ ” said Cuomo.
“Our point was that at some point, you do bear responsibility.”
As part of its agreement, the three ISPs will also pay
$1.125 million to underwrite the investigation and “fund additional efforts
by the Attorney General’s office and the National Center for Missing &
Exploited Children to remove child pornography from the Internet.”