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Courts, Cops Cracking Down on Kiddie Porn

Federal and state authorities are cracking down on child pornography across the Internet, from news groups to Web sites, but will efforts to police the World Wide Web ever bear fruit?

Monday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) charged 89 pedophiles for producing and distributing images across the Internet. Those charged were not overt criminals or your classic stereotype of a sexual predator, officials said, but policemen, teachers, Little League coaches and doctors.

Robert Mueller, FBI director, said no corner of the Internet is safe from Operation Candyman, an initiative to track down and arrest child pornography rings and an outgrowth of its "Innocent Images" operation.

"We will diligently shut down any and all websites, Egroups, bulletin boards, and any other mediums that will foster the continued exploitation of our children," Mueller said.

"Innocent Images" has convicted more than 3,000 people since its start in 1995.

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), House Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee chairman, said safety and security on the Internet remains a priority, even if other events have taken over the national consciousness.

"Although technology carries many benefits, the scourge of Internet child pornography underscores that technology can be misused," he said. "Even though the FBI has been working around the clock in response to 9/11, it is still committed to finding those sexual predators who produce, distribute, and exchange child pornography.

"This must remain an ongoing effort to find, arrest, and prosecute those who target our children," Stearns added.

Internet service providers (ISPs) in Pennsylvania find themselves in the middle of the government's attempts to crack down on child pornography, courtesy of a law state legislators will put into effect next month.

The new law puts ISPs in a quandary -- the first and foremost consideration is for ISPs to bring the Internet to its customers. Now, the state's attorney general's office will hand providers a list of sites promoting kiddie porn and have those ISPs block the IP addresses in question. The penalty for non-compliance is jail time.

On the other hand, ISPs have to face a statistic released by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which finds that one in five children between the ages of 10 and 17 have been solicited for sex while online.

It's the first time ISPs in the U.S. have had to impose a government-ordered block on certain Web sites, one that sets a new level of precedence for banning undesirable content on the Internet.

To date, the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998 requires ISPs to notify the police if they find one of their customers hosting child pornography on their servers, though no provider have been charged to date for violating that Act.

"Attacking child pornography in cyberspace is the responsibility of everyone, including ISPs," Stearns said. "However, we cannot expect ISPs to police the Internet alone. It must be a cooperative effort among ISPs, communities, and law enforcement."

It's an initial attempt in the U.S. to do what other countries have failed to do worldwide.

Terence C. Giufre-Sweetser works at TereDonn Telecommunications Ltd., a carrier in Queensland, Australia. He said the Aussie government has had an ISP child pornography law in place for a year now, and is a failure. The problem, he said, is the government isn't Internet-savvy enough to figure out how to track elusive pornography distributors.

"The law is ineffective (in Australia)," he said. "The government here doesn't understand the medium, and can't work out that handing $6 million to a film censor every year will never stop child exploitation."