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Voluntarily censor one of the internet's oldest mediums

Sprint, Verizon, and Time Warner cable agreed to a nationwide block on access to Usenet newsgroups that offer child pornography, wrapping up an eight month undercover investigation and complaint from the New York Attorney General’s office.

“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 industry.”

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 often supplied internationally, frequently hailing from countries doing little in the way of enforcement.

“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.”

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RE: Child porn is bad, mmkay?
By Kenenniah on 6/11/2008 10:14:13 AM , Rating: 2
Your logic is a little off.......
Child pornography is illegal period, so filtering it from newsgroups is a far cry from filtering "unpatriotic" material. Now if the day comes that being unpatriotic becomes illegal.....well, we'll have a lot bigger problems to worry about than newsgroups.

RE: Child porn is bad, mmkay?
By mvpx02 on 6/11/2008 1:44:44 PM , Rating: 2
Perhaps patriotism was a bad example, but its true, this sets a disturbing precident. While I am emphatically against such material & think that this is probably for the best, I must admit that my first thought when I read the headline was about the precident that was being set here.

This obviously doesn't make any similar actions the RIAA or MPAA attempt to persue too terribly much easier to accomplish, but it does open the door, it leaves the possibility.

I just hope this is a one-time incident, because I can see how a decision like this could slowly snowball out of control when/if successfully applied to other court decisions/subject matters.


by rahvyn13 on June 11, 2008 at 10:42 AM

...Cuomo is known for doing these kinds of things to extort money from corporations...

if Cuomo really wanted to extort money from multi-billion dollar corporations, He'd go for more than $1.125 million

in the event that Cuomo honestly didnt care about the content and had ulterior motives, I'd compare this more to perhaps sending a disobedient child to bed without dessert - not trying to save money on food or hurt/malnourish the child, simply trying to remind them who's the boss

RE: Child porn is bad, mmkay?
By Ringold on 6/11/2008 8:29:25 PM , Rating: 2
I think all this precedent talk is almost silly.

President Lincoln set a 'precedent' of tossing the printing presses of opposition newspaper in the nearest river.

Lincoln set a 'precedent' of throwing people in jail without a trial.

Lincoln set a 'precedent' of deposing elected officials and dropping them off behind enemy lines. (I'm thinking of a certain Governor here)

Lincoln set a 'precedent' of ignoring all of our 'inalienable' rights when it suited the federal government.

And yet, the vast majority of Americans love Lincoln.

It's much too late to avoid dangerous precedents for many things in America. The trick is fighting the right fights and keeping the federal beast in its cage when it matters. IMHO, get our panties in a wad over an anti-kiddy porn measure is to divert attention away from other, larger ongoing issues that matter quite a bit more.

RE: Child porn is bad, mmkay?
By MBlueD on 6/12/2008 10:15:32 AM , Rating: 2
Well, I didn't mean it this way - to compare child porn with patriotism...
I'm just saying that, with the mechanism to filter child porn related newsgroups and forums in place, filtering other subjects becomes as easy as adding new keywords to the filter database (or equivalent, depending on how they implement it).
That, there, is power - and power corrupts, doesn't it?

"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates
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