RealTime IT News

Kazaa Chief Denies Link Between P2P and Child Porn

The chief spokesman for peer-to-peer (P2P) network Kazaa told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday that allegations of "strong linkage" between file-swapping networks and the distribution of child pornography were "vile and reprehensible."

Alan Morris, EVP of Sharman Networks, owner and operator of Kazaa, said the allegations amounted to nothing less than a smear campaign by media companies that are fighting music and movie file-swapping. Morris said the "vast majority" of the child pornography problem stems from Web sites accessed by browser software.

"P2P plays a very minor role in the propagation of child pornography. P2P referrals presently constitute less than two percent of all reports of child pornography submitted to the CyberTipline operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, while Internet Web sites account for more than 77 percent," said Alan Morris, EVP of Sharman Networks, owner and operator of Kazaa.

According to a new General Accounting Office (GAO) report issued Tuesday, juvenile users of P2P networks are at "significant risk" to inadvertent exposure to pornography, including images of child pornography. GAO searches on innocuous keywords likely to be used by juveniles, such as cartoon characters or teen celebrities, produced a "high percentage" of pornography (34 percent), but the results that the GAO classified as child pornography amounted to only one percent.

However, another GAO analysis of 1,286 titles and file names identified through Kazaa searches of 12 keywords known to be associated with child pornography found 42 percent had child pornographic images.

Morris said pedophiles quickly realized, when P2P first appeared, that it was a "foolhardy way to pursue their warped ends" of distributing child pornographic files. He claims that any charges of child pornography increasingly being distributed through P2P networks come from the early days of file swapping before pedophiles understood they were not anonymous on the system.

"Law enforcement agencies quickly picked them off and so they retreated back to their sordid encrypted sites, newsgroups and the like," Morris said. "While any amount of child pornography available via P2P software is unacceptable to us, we know of no instance or charge that there is any commercial or organized distribution of such materials using P2P, while many of the thousands of Web sites hosting child pornography do charge for access to these illegal materials, and newsgroups are actively used for illegal private distribution."

The GAO report says there are approximately 400,000 commercial pornographic websites worldwide with "some" selling child pornographic images.

"Yet we do not see a coordinated campaign to smear Web browsing technology even though it is the primary technological means by which child pornography is accessed, distributed, and sold," Morris aid. "Nor do we see such a campaign against instant messaging software, chat rooms or news groups, even though there have been repeated reports of how pedophiles have masqueraded as minors and used these technologies to engage in suggestive conversations with minors, to send pornographic images to minors, and to attempt to set up face to face meetings with minors."

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R.-Utah), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was not swayed by Morris' comments.

"Peer-to-peer networks provide a new and growing means for distribution of these disgraceful materials. They also pose unique challenges for law enforcement trying to combat child pornography and unique and unacceptable dangers to our children," said Hatch. "This is an issue of critical importance to parents, who must be educated about these risks and equipped to control or eliminate them."

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.) also lashed out at the P2P networks for turning a "blind eye" to the problem.

"In many cases they are specifically designed so that parents are unable to keep their children off the network with a traditional firewall. In addition, what few protections are available are designed so that they can be easily circumvented by a child, regardless of their parent's intentions," Leahy said.

Leahy added, "More disturbingly, the networks are actively hindering law enforcement efforts to crack down on child pornography. Although pornography on peer-to-peer has risen fourfold between 2001 and 2002, arrests for child pornography have dropped dramatically in recent years."

Leahy said that "perhaps the only reason" for the decline in arrests "is that that peer-to-peer networks have changed their systems to allow their users to remain anonymous. In their zeal to allow illegal file sharing, the networks have made it far too difficult for law enforcement to track down child pornographers."