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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.

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