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U.S. Customs acknowledges ASACP

Child Care
By Randy Barrett, Interactive Week
November 6, 2000

Adult site operator Alec Helmy sends more than 200 links to child pornography Web pages to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Customs Service each month for investigation. He wants to do more, but can`t get the agencies to return his calls.

After three years and thousands of leads, Helmy, director of Adult Sites Against Child Pornography, is frustrated he can`t open a dialogue with federal law enforcement. Clearly, the leads are being followed: Between 80 and 100 of the links ASACP sends in each month are shut down quickly. "Something seems to be happening, but much more could happen if there was an open channel of communication," Helmy said.

That channel isn`t likely to get dredged clear any time soon. While adult site owners widely agree child porn is the most despicable form of their craft and many actively fight against it, federal agencies appear highly reticent to work with anyone in the industry."

The FBI won`t get near the adult community at all," said Parry Aftab, executive director at CyberAngels.

Customs Service spokesman Kevin Bell confirmed his agency gets leads from ASACP, but said, "We don`t acknowledge anybody. We get leads from tons of people and we check them out."

Aftab said the 70 child porn leads CyberAngels delivers to the feds each day don`t garner a response. She attributes it to the way federal law enforcement does business.

Clearly, Aftab wears a white hat on the issue. The depths of law enforcement`s aversion to cybersmut players came into full relief in September, however, when she tried to convince the FBI to send an agent to talk about child pornography at the Internet Audiotext Convention a gathering of adult site operators held in New Orleans. "They said, `No way,` " Aftab said. "I was surprised."

Planners of an earlier adult Webmasters` conference this year in Las Vegas ran into the same problem. The FBI also did not respond to invitations to speak at AdultDEX this month, according to people running the event.

FBI spokeswoman Angela Bell said the problem has more to do with manpower than willpower: "They are overwhelmed with the number of [online child porn] cases out there."

The FBI`s Los Angeles unit that investigates crimes against children has only six agents working online porn cases, Bell said. "When they do get [leads], they act on them."

The FBI opened 1,500 investigations into online child exploitation last year, and Bell said this year`s case total will far exceed that.

Kevin Patterson, chief executive of Ethical Hackers Against Pedophelia, said more is at play: "The FBI is fairly leery of working with regular civilians. It took almost three years before they would actually take us seriously."

EHAP has helped the feds crack several online porn rings, but it took first working with the New York State Attorney General`s office to convince the FBI the group was legitimate.

Adult site operator Flying Crocodile sends the FBI about 40 child porn leads each week and gets "minimal response" from the FBI, said Quality Assurance Manager Joshua Duffy. "If there was a way for the FBI to tell us how we can do this better, we`d absolutely like to know."