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Corporate culture, personal experiences, and unique observations about Giganews, Usenet, Newsgroups, and Usenet related technologies.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Clearing the Air – Usenet Abuse– Eliminating Child Sexual Abuse Image

The sexual abuse of a child is a crime against humanity which has no equal. Accordingly, the possession, distribution, or mere viewing of sexual abuse images is considered a serious crime in many jurisdictions including the United States.

Sexual Abuse Image Prevention and Education

Since its inception, Giganews has continually supported law enforcement in their efforts to investigate and apprehend offenders. Giganews has worked to educate and train law enforcement on how Usenet works and how they can identify a poster’s Usenet server. This information allows law enforcement to identify the poster and cut the problem off at its source.

Upon the receipt of properly obtained court order, Giganews will promptly act to follow the court order. Over the years, Giganews has complied with court orders and assisted the successful prosecution of numerous offenders. Let us be clear, we strongly believe that our customer data is held to what we consider some of the highest privacy standards in the industry. Privacy, however, does not equate to anonymity.

The following timeline demonstrates our ongoing commitment to working together with law enforcement across the world:

2004 – Giganews joins the Internet Watch Foundation (“IWF”) as the 50th member and financial sponsor. The IWF is an organization dedicated to working with Internet service providers, telecom and mobile service operators, law enforcement, the government, and the public to minimize the availability of sexual abuse images online. (http://www.iwf.org.uk/media/news.archive-2004.84.htm)

2005 – Giganews organizes a "Fighting Child Porn on Usenet" conference. Those in attendance included Usenet providers representing 75% of United States Usenet traffic, and law enforcement agencies including the FBI, ICE, Interpol, US Dept. of Justice, US Dept. of Homeland Security, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, International Internet Hotline Providers (“INHOPE”), National Police Agency of Japan, West Midlands Police, and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (“NCMEC”).

2005 – Giganews attends the annual IWF conference in London, held in conjunction with members of British government and law enforcement, including members of the House of Lords, House of Commons, and Scotland Yard.

2006 – Giganews, at the invitation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canada’s National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre, meets with the Virtual Global Task Force in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

2007 – Giganews' Chief Technical Officer speaks at the INHOPE General Assembly regarding methods used to track suspects and sexual abuse images over the global Usenet network.

New York Attorney General Recent Actions

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo recently requested several Internet service providers stop providing access to 80 specific newsgroups (the NYAG repeatedly cites 88 groups, but their list contains 8 duplicates). The NYAG asserted that these groups were solely used for the dissemination of sexual abuse images.

This request was also sent to Giganews. Nearly half (38) of the listed newsgroups had already been previously made unavailable through Giganews' service due to our existing policies and ongoing cooperation with International law enforcement. The remaining 42 groups were promptly removed based upon the assurance from the NYAG that these groups were solely used for the dissemination of sexual abuse images and that it was a serious criminal matter from the NYAG’s “Organized Crime Task Force”.

The Unspoken Facts



A closer examination of the NYAG’s recent actions generates the following facts that were not reported in the NYAG’s press release nor in coverage by traditional media.

  • According to the NYAG's own press release, the NYAG found 11,390 instances of sexual abuse images after examining millions of Usenet articles.

  • The NYAG identified 80 Newsgroups that contained 11,390 sexual abuse images.

  • The 11,390 sexual abuse images accounted for only 0.25% of the 4.5 million articles contained in the 80 newsgroups at the time the groups were deleted.

  • Therefore, 99.75% of the articles in the identified newsgroups were free of sexual abuse images according to the information provided by the NYAG.

  • The 11,390 sexual abuse images accounted for only 0.0003% of the 3.7 billion articles available across roughly 100,000 newsgroups offered by Giganews.

  • Thus, 99.9997% of the 3.7 billion available Usenet articles were free of the sexual abuse images reported by the NYAG after their exhaustive search of millions of newsgroups’ articles.


NYAG’s June 10, 2008 Press Release

The NYAG's June 10, 2008, press release contains a quote from the CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, "This is a major step forward in the fight against child [sexual abuse images]. Attorney General Cuomo has developed a new and effective system that cuts online child [sexual abuse images] off at the source, and stops it from spreading across the Internet."

We have several points about this quote:

  1. Attorney General Cuomo's "new and effective system" is described in the press releases as a listing of checksums (hash values) of the known sexual abuse images. This repeated statement is false. Computer scientists have been using checksums for decades. Andrew Cuomo did not invent checksums.

  2. Andrew Cuomo shut down 80 newsgroups his office identified as current posting places of sexual abuse images. Because of the large number of newsgroups in Usenet, we believe that shutting down 80 known newsgroups will not solve the problem of child sexual abuse and the resulting sexual abuse images. Further, the NYAG has not indicated that it will do anything to alert us to future materials so that we can delete them.

  3. In all our years of working with law enforcement to combat child sexual abuse images on Usenet the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has provided no support whatsoever. We have never received a single takedown notice from either the NCMEC or any U.S. law enforcement agency. Further, in our own discussions with top people at NCMEC, we know that they, like us, are prevented by law from viewing any potentially illegal materials for the purpose of validating an image as illegal.

  4. In contrast to NCMEC, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF - http://www.iwf.org.uk/) in the UK has worked closely with us to remove tens of thousands of sexual abuse images over the years. Under English law, the IWF has a safe harbor and is able to view and evaluate sexual abuse images for illegal activity. The law in the United States does not provide such a safe harbor for NCMEC and other organizations and suggests a change is needed at the legislative level.


The press release further states “[w]e are attacking this problem by working with Internet Service Providers to ensure they do not play host to this immoral business.”

Andrew Cuomo claims he worked with service providers in this investigation. However, as DSL Reports eloquently states, it was very much a sting operation (see http://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Fight-Child-Porn-ByDoing-Nothing-Differently-96080). The NYAG certainly did not approach Giganews and ask us to work with them. Instead, the NYAG’s Organized Crimes Task Force began an undercover investigation and attacked us as if we were the criminals producing, consuming, promoting, and selling sexual abuse images.

In order to provide the online services that make the Internet what it is today, service providers are in a tough position as they face assassination at the hands of overly zealous Attorneys General, such as Andrew Cuomo. We find it offensive that service providers are being labeled as the source of sexual abuse images.

Questions We Consider

After the NYAG’s recent actions, here are some serious questions we ask ourselves:

  1. How many posters of child sexual abuse images to Usenet were arrested through this investigation? (The press releases are silent on this issue, and given the level of positive press due to any arrests, we are left to assume ZERO arrests.)

  2. How many downloaders of child sexual abuse images were arrested through this investigation? (For the same reasons above, ZERO arrests.)

  3. How many ongoing pedophile sting operations, in the deleted newsgroups, by OTHER law enforcement bodies across the world were disrupted by the NYAG's actions? (We may never know. In our experience, law enforcement prefer the group(s) remain open so they can surveil the group(s) and build a prosecutable case that leads to warrants and the eventual arrest and successful prosecution of the posters of the sexual abuse images. In a previous instance where similar newsgroups were removed we know that an investigation was disrupted.)

  4. If the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is prohibited by law from viewing sexual abuse images, then how can they report to ISPs the URLs of sexual abuse images, and what is their plan to join in the fight on Usenet? (Giganews would gladly embrace any assistance from NCMEC.)

  5. If not NCMEC, then what U.S. organization will serve this role?


Note on Terminology

Please note that we prefer the terminology "child sexual abuse images" instead of "child pornography". We do this out of respect for the Internet Watch Foundation and their view on the terminology (see http://www.iwf.org.uk/public/page.103.htm). We are glad to have them on our side in actually helping to remove child sexual abuse images from Usenet.

Conclusion

It is our hope that the NYAG truly has the safety of children in mind and not political gain as they move forward with their efforts. We hope that they are part of a solution that envisions service providers working in tandem with law enforcement to combat this heinous crime. We are disheartened that they choose to attack service providers instead of truly working with them. The recent news of service providers being threatened with legal action should they fail to sign an undisclosed agreement with the NYAG is problematic. Our government should not behave in this manner.

We hope you have found this blog post interesting and educational. There is clearly more at work here than was initially reported through official channels and traditional media. We are glad to provide an insider's view on these issues.

Giganews will continue to enforce its abuse policies related to sexual abuse images so that the overwhelming majority of members posting legal contributions will be able to continue to enjoy and participate in the global open and public Usenet community.

Labels:

Anonymous Dennis said...

Good article.

Now lets hope other usenet providers will join and do this as well.

5:30 AM 
Anonymous Scott said...

Absoultey by all means should Giganews be a part of this action. Although Usenet is an often times overlooked source, these criminal acts and their distribution through this channel should be stopped at all costs. Thank you for putting another roadblock in the way of these horrible acts, and the perpitrators having another method of distributing their filth, stopped for good.

4:31 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

delete entire groups because of SPAM posters, that don't make sense. SPAM can appear anywhere..
SPAM is the posting of unwanted material in a group.. according to this,
The 11,390 sexual abuse images accounted for only 0.25% of the 4.5 million articles contained in the 80 newsgroups at the time the groups were deleted.

Therefore, 99.75% of the articles in the identified newsgroups were free of sexual abuse images according to the information provided by the NYAG.

these groups WERE NOT primarily used for "child abuse images" but rather, were the victims of a few BAD posters..

3:21 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

delete entire groups because of SPAM posters, that don't make sense. SPAM can appear anywhere..
SPAM is the posting of unwanted material in a group.. according to this,
The 11,390 sexual abuse images accounted for only 0.25% of the 4.5 million articles contained in the 80 newsgroups at the time the groups were deleted.

Therefore, 99.75% of the articles in the identified newsgroups were free of sexual abuse images according to the information provided by the NYAG.

these groups WERE NOT primarily used for "child abuse images" but rather, were the victims of a few BAD posters.. so, a lot of ISPs dropped usenet altogether, as they feared getting sued..

3:26 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember years ago when I was first introduced to news servers, that there where some obvious newsgroups listed with regard to child porn, I was so upset I called my ISP and asked that they be removed. They said it couldn't be done. Ya right. Hopefully they have been erased by now.
Here's the problem as I see it. If you kill 80 newsgroups, then I assume the posters will just start using 80 different ones. It will be a continual battle. But if you track and find the posters and stop them, and kill the offensive material on the servers, then the problem is solved.
From what I've read, it seems that Canada did one thing right, they stopped the web sites that support such filth from even being accessed in Canada. BRAVO !
I wish the US would do the same thing. One thing is sure though, the enforcement agencies should not be attacking Giganews. They should work with them to let them know what has been found in the groups that is considered illegal so they can remove it. I for one, would feel great about not having to worry about the potential of one day downloading a cross post and going to prison for it just because I was unaware I had it.

5:19 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Considering that the guy has probably caught nobody (current evidence suggests this), and his predecessor was involved in busting Verizon et al for fraud and corruption, it kinda smells like someone did a payoff and mentioned providing usenet access is costly. It's almost way too convenient that companies formerly being investigated are now saving millions thanks to this new guy's actions.

4:19 PM 
Anonymous MarcL303 said...

In GIGANEWS' article they post:
"in our own discussions with top people at NCMEC, we know that they, like us, are prevented by law from viewing any potentially illegal materials for the purpose of validating an image as illegal."

What _insane_ piece of junk legislation brought this preposterous regulation into being?! A completely self-defeating idea that virtually cripples the very legislation itself. Surely that is a ship of fools.

Further, the NYAG's office apparently does not possess even rudimentary knowledge of CRC ("checksums" or "hash values".) All it takes is _1_ Byte or less to totally alter the CRC value of an image, without materially affecting the contents of that image. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the NYAG's "new and effective system" is neither new nor effective. What idiots.

11:44 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Internet as we know it won't be controlled and regulated by the establishment in one fell swoop. They'll nickle and dime it until it's under their power, using the fear of lawsuits.

I would guess 99.9999% of Giganews customers are against child porn. We are opposed to child porn. However, we are equally against government encroachment into our privacy and free speech. Your responses to gov't requests need to be appropriate. I believe you went too far, as previous posters state.

The hard part is that companies don't want to stand up to stupid legislation like this because companies think they will be crushed. If you will have the courage to protect the rights of me, your customer, I will stand by you when the government attacks.

10:04 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the NYAG's "new and effective system" is neither new nor effective. What idiots."

That's the scary thing. They just need to look like they're being "tough on child porn." That's in spite of the fact that their actions are quite obviously worthless. But 'defeating evil child porn' is a very easy cause to get folks rallied around.
This is Cuomo's way of getting Usenet access cut off as a big gift to the criminals at the RIAA and the MPAA. It's not about child porn. That's just the convenient (and non-existent) scapegoat. It's about downloading music & movies. Since Usenet isn't sharing anything back like Limewire and Bittorrent, it's impossible for the RIAA/MPAA to blast out their terroristic and extortionist lawsuits.

3:08 PM 
Anonymous Ace said...

Interesting article.

You have to love it when politicians see everything as black and white. "Let's entirely remove child abuse images". "Checksumming is the magic answer". "Taking a few newsgroups offline will solve the problem".

Let's be clear; the only way to prevent the spreading of such images over Usenet would be to ban Usenet, and the only way to prevent spreading over the WWW would be to dismantle the WWW. If you like, that's the black-and-white truth.

It sounds like the IWF is doing a good job, but with such reactionary measures, all that will ever achieve is a slight reduction of aforementioned content. To my mind, that is the correct course, though. To remove *most* of the content would require intolerably invasive measures and a ridiculous amount of manpower, amongst other things.

There are some things we can't control; the Internet is one of them. Politicians may like to think Internet censorship is necessary and workable. However, most know that a level of censorship that could actually make a large enough impact would likely be illegal with regard to privacy, almost impossible to implement in reality, insanely expensive, and would still be comparatively simple to circumvent by those with even limited technical knowledge.

How do people like Cuomo get into these positions that put them in power of things they haven't a clue about?

Removing those few groups that were requested was probably not a bad idea in reality; however, I worry that taking this much further could be setting an awful precedent. If we're removing groups due to them containing 1+ articles of legally dubious content (starting with child abuse, moving to anything illegal or morally questionable), then... surely that could include many or most Usenet newsgroups. Where do you sensibly draw the line?

"developed a new and effective system... stops it from spreading across the Internet" - I love this statement. It shows such a lack of technical understanding =)

5:25 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

giganews as any other usenet provider should not volunteer to do police functions.

since if users feel they are under watchful eye, it is a great danger for the usenet.

also the phrase that privacy doesn't presume anonymity should be explained, in fact privacy includes anonymity when the user chooses so.

again the danger because of small fraction of users, the whole user base may be wiped out because they won't feel safe.

there are legal means like court order i think all should be done by the force of the law but there shouldn't be volunteering to do the law enforcement job by a usenet provider, the vigilante function is not so appropriate in this case so users won't feel intimidated.

i fully agree with the last comment that if to start with adding restraints there will be no stop point.

12:31 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the end, this isn't about "child abuse images" at all. It's about controlling information and censoring the internet.

Anyone who thinks that a law or agency, meant to limit certain content on the internet, will stay within it's mandate: is delusional.

When we find ourselves under the boot-heel of the thought police - with our many freedoms lost: I wonder if we'll think back and remember that it all started here... with things like this...

1:53 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While the IWF has some laudable aims regarding the reduction of child abuse images on the internet, there are two things that worry me.

Firstly, dropping groups that carry these images will just lead to other groups being used. Dropping these in turn will ultimately lead to major existing groups being used which simply cannot be dropped. This means more people being exposed to these posts and possibly breaking the law by downloading illegal images just by using 'crawler' software that downloads everything posted within a group.

The second concern is that the remit of the IWF doesn't stop at child abuse but also extends to anything deemed illegal under UK law, but possibly perfectly legal in many other countries including the USA and the rest of Europe. To follow IWF recommendations blindly is to impose blanket censorship on the internet at the whim of a small group not answerable to the majority of people affected by their decisions.

8:35 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If my 'privacy'has to suffer to prevent depraved inddividuals sating their hunger then so be it. Giganews is ccompletely right to work with the IWF (an excellent organisation) to minimise ppeoles exposure to this disgusting and damaging content.

1:38 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Giganews keep up he good work ... I did not know you did this but I know that I like you guys more b/c u do this ....

7:59 PM 
Blogger Nathan said...

In my reading, re-reading, and evaluation of what was said and commented, it's become painfully obvious that the NYAG needs a taste of it's own medicine...it's been mentioned that the mere viewing of this contraband content is illegal...well in order for the NYAG office to develop this 'new and effective system' they MUST have not only downloaded the said files they are identifying, but also have processed these files to generate the checksums...furthermore they probably have these images saved someplace for referance and verification purposes, and if they do not have them saved, well then where is the evidence that there is anything illegal about the files identified by thier checksums?

3:08 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two points. I hope everything that can be done to toast the perpetrators of sexual abuse on minors will be done. I pray it will be. Second point, these Cuomo clowns are as banal as humans get, and it's particularly timely to point out that this Andrew Cuomo, while head of HUD, along with his sidekick, Franklin Raines, then head of Fannie Mae, caused the Financial Meltdown that has nearly destroyed our economic system. Quotes from the Village Voice (not my favorite news source, but handy; all data available elsewhere): Aug. 8, 2008. EXCERPT There are as many starting points for the mortgage meltdown as there are fears about how far it has yet to go, but one decisive point of departure is the final years of the Clinton administration, when a kid from Queens without any real banking or real-estate experience was the only man in Washington with the power to regulate the giants of home finance, the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (FHLMC), better known as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Andrew Cuomo, the youngest Housing and Urban Development secretary in history, made a series of decisions between 1997 and 2001 that gave birth to the country's current crisis. He took actions that—in combination with many other factors—helped plunge Fannie and Freddie into the subprime markets without putting in place the means to monitor their increasingly risky investments.

Cuomo turned the Federal Housing Administration mortgage program into a sweetheart lender with sky-high loan ceilings and no money down, and he legalized what a federal judge has branded "kickbacks" to brokers that have fueled the sale of overpriced and unsupportable loans. Three to four million families are now facing foreclosure, and Cuomo is one of the reasons why.

Basically, Bill Clinton put Franklin Raines in at Fannie and Cuomo in at HUD with instructions to ratchet up the old Carter era "Community Reinvestment Act," to put a socialist shake on housing/lending...eventually forcing banks to ensure that, eventually, 62% of their housing loans went to subprime borrowers who could not have qualified for a loan five years before. That's where the meltdown started, folks. Right there and nowhere else. Socialist mandates in a financial system that eventually couldn't stand anymore. Clinton, Raines, Cuomo, Frank, Dodd. Those are the perpetrators, and this Cuomo was the key. It took him at HUD to push it all through. This has nothing to do with the abuse that is the subject here, but that's who this boy is. He's the one who destroyed world finance. Caput.

12:35 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like some other posters have said, the actions by the NYAG are not designed to actually stop this activity, but to send out pretty press releases that they're "doing something". I bet they even have a Powerpoint presentation with multi-colored bar-graphs and statistics to show how "effective" they are.

The real way to stop any illegal activity is stated in one of the above paragraphs: you follow the newsgroup to build a case and then you arrest the person posting the images. He goes to jail and gets punished, and this sends a signal that all other offenders will also be arrested and punished.

But this takes time and resources and it doesn't produce a good "sound bite" about how the NYAG is "cracking down" and "getting tough" by deleting newsgroups.

And, again, as people are pointing out, when you delete one newsgroup, the offenders simply move to other groups, which creates an endless game of whack-a-mole since the offender is still free to post offending images. Yet this concept is completely missed by the NYAG office, probably because they have political reasons to take an easier approach.

As a side note, I didn't even know the state of New York had this kind of authority over a world-wide network like newsgroups. Do they have similar power over websites? Will they ask China or Russia to take down a website because the New York attorney general doesn't like it? And yes, there have been cases where someone in the US told Russia to take down a site even though the site was operating within Russian laws.

12:10 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thankyou, I have been convinced of Giganews' rational stance on this issue.

As a carrier entrusted with public correspondence, Giganews have displayed their commitment to providing time-tested NNTP services ON THEIR OWN TERMS.

NNTP, and those time-strengthened server daemons, database systems, and network infrastructures that make today's Usenet a possibility, remain the
the cornerstone of the only concurrently available public-access global forum capable of the irrevocable dissemination of generalised public correspondence.

The power of Usenet cannot be easily communicated.
Instead, it is Demonstrated by an array of documented cases where reports of human rights abuses, genocide, evidence of electoral fraud, whistleblower action, declarations of war and the cessation of hostilities have been seen in public first on Usenet.

Amongst opinion, debate, analysis, solicitation, and 'miscellaneous', all timestamped within acceptable limits, the non-trivial Usenet Newsworthy article varies from the soberly objective yet staple rations of the automated wire-service reports, to eye-witness reports and independant analysts' reasoning.

Clearly, Giganews recognises the need to defend their legal and ethical responsibilities towards their subscribing members, and this primarily includes personal information. If anonymous posting via SSL was unavailable, there will unavoidably be many events occuring in oppressive regions of the globe that will go unreported, or worse yet, distorted for selfish or geopolitical gains.

Giganews likely has a large amount of investments tied up in the infrastructure necessary to both provide services themselves, whilst protecting and growing the article databases that forms the renewable source of negentropy that their subscribers value - the critical incentive of the Giganews brand, realised as profitability and growth now, and
towards the future.

The subscribers of Giganews rely upon the nature of Giganews' service and policies in order to convince themselves that anonymous posting via NNTP over SSL is a reasonable means of protecting themselves from oppression.



This allows them to decompensate any emotional impedance to the flow of factual knowledge they possess that would otherwise be subject to self-censorship and the like, and for which it may not be personally agreeable for said knowledge, personal knowledge of said knowledge, or the intended dissemination of said knowledge to be suspected by their oppressive society's apparatus. In many countries, you may not be reasonably able to trust a spouse, let alone a human rights watchdog.

3:49 PM 
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1:08 AM 
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