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NCMEC Says Child Porn Reports Up 39 Percent

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2005-01-12
NCMEC Says Child Porn Reports Up 39 Percent
By: Charles Farrar
Posted: 6:00 pm PST 1-12-2005

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Suspected child porn reports to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's CyberTipline jumped 39 percent in 2004, continuing a trend of increased such reporting yearly, the NCMEC said January 11.

The CyberTipline showed over 106,000 such reports, involving child porn creation, distribution, or possession, marking 2004 as the seventh straight year the reporting volume rose since the tipline was set up in 1998, the NCMEC said.

Exploited Child Unit supervisor Staca Urie said in a statement that the child porn hike could be credited to the growth of digital cameras, the Internet, and peer-to-peer networks which child pornographers can use more readily to make, send, hide, and find their products. But Urie also said the increased reporting could also be credited to Internet service providers' increasing compliance with federal law requiring their action and reporting on child porn.

Some of the increase could also be attributed to Adult Sites Against Child Pornography, whose reporting includes sharing validated reports – ASACP calls them Red Flag Reports – to the NCMEC as well as the FBI and "relevant international hotlines," according to ASACP executive director Joan Irvine.

"ASACP has experienced a 50 percent increase in the number of reports each year since 2002," Irvine told AVNOnline.com. "For example, last year ASACP received over 60,000 suspect reports and forwarded over 2,000 Red Flag Reports.

"Two years ago ASACP discovered how child pornographers were using legitimate affiliate program to distribute and collect funds; it alerted the FBI," she continued. "ASACP was instrumental in helping the FBI try to ‘follow the money trail.’ As it always does, it informed the industry about this critical situation. This situation was the catalyst for ASACP to have new features added to it systems to monitor its member sites. In a few months, ASACP will launch an enhancement that will automatically alert Approved Members if it discovers a similar situation."

The alert to the FBI regarding "the money trail" alludes to Belarus-based Regpay Co., Ltd, a company accused of providing billing services for fifty child porn Websites and even running their own such sites. In the latest development in that case, two company executives – president Yahor Zalatarou and marketing director Alexei Buchnev – were extradited from France this week to face child porn, money laundering, and other charges in federal court in the United States.

Zalatarou and Buchnev are two of four Regpay executives facing charges in this case, which began when ASACP started reporting their activities to federal law enforcement in early 2003 and continued when Zalatarou, Buchnev, and two other Regpay officials were among 44 arrested in early 2004.

Formerly known as Trustbill.com, Regpay owned a Website, pedoworld, that ASACP found to be using a Hotmail address to get customers and send them to payment options.

A third Regpay executive, technical administrator Aliaksandr Boika, was extradited to the U.S. from Spain in June 2004 to face similar charges to those faced by Zalatarou and Buchnev. The Regpay case – which also involves a Florida company, Connections USA of Fort Lauderdale – is now believed to have landed 190 arrests in the U.S. and around the world.

ASACP received 2,000 reports of child porn online a month in 2002, 4,000 a month in 2003, and 6,000 a month in 2004.

Peer-to-peer networks, already under fire over copyright violations involving music and movie swaps, have also been under fire from politicians and public interest advocates over suspicions that they either don't know or turn a blind eye to possible child porn swapping over their networks.

Some of the networks and some interest groups who support P2P have, in fact, taken active part in public awareness campaigns, including P2P United, perhaps the best-known pro-P2P advocacy group. Executive director Adam Eisgrau has said in the recent past – including in testimony on Capitol Hill – that his group takes a role in both educating the public and helping law enforcement hunt child porn online. P2P United's Website, in fact, links to the NCMEC's CyberTipline.

The Distributed Computing Industry Association has worked with the NCMEC, the FBI, and state Internet crime task forces since October 2003, according to DCIA chief executive Martin Lafferty, who told AVNOnline.com his group launched a three-part initiative last fall, P2P Patrol (Peer-to-Peer Parents and Teens React Online), to help all those and others fight child porn online – and to help parents and their children ward off child porn.

The first part, Lafferty said, addressed support for law enforcement. "We have [member] companies offering software enhancements to help them be more efficient about identifying where content is originating and being sent to P2P distribution," he said, a critical portion of debunking the impression many of its critics have that P2P might be a willing conduit for child porn distribution, an impression P2P networks and advocates alike have labored to dispel.

In fact, two of P2P's most visible names – AltNet and Grokster – played a key role in the second part of the P2P Patrol initiative, addressing deterrence. Those two developed the programming P2P networks now use to give those entering child porn-tied keywords a rather jolting answer on screen: "a pretty frightening popup warning message," as Lafferty described it, "that alerts you to the fact that the search term is known by [law enforcement] to be associated with child pornography."

The deterrence portion's parallel focus, Lafferty said, is aimed at "people on the fringe of being involved with child pornography, [where] we think we can turn them back."

The third part of the DCIA P2P Patrol initiative, he said, involves education. "It's not a lot of reading," he said. "But it's focused on good citizen users who may, despite using all the family filters and trying not to look for child porn, might inadvertently encounter child pornography. The goal is to help them be able to recognize real illegal content as opposed to just objectionable content and to be able to report it automatically to law enforcement and remove it from further distribution."

The DCIA plans a private working session in Dallas February 1, where representatives of federal and state law enforcement and the private tech sector will discuss further ideas on keeping P2P and other places in cyberspace child porn free.

"If you're any kind of responsible adult and you cannot get behind an effort to eradicate child pornography, it's the worst kind of crime," Lafferty said. "It's a black and white issue."

DCIA figures show that, conttary to assertions or accusations by P2P opponents, P2P-based consumer complaints that prove to be valid child porn complaints are extremely low. Approximately 1.4 percent of online child porn complaints last year could be verified as P2P-based complaints, down from 2 percent a year earlier, while 98 percent were based on Websites and chat room activities.