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Bill Aims to Shield Children From P2P Porno

U.S. Representative Joe Pitts (R.-Pa.) has introduced legislation requiring Internet file-swapping services to obtain parental consent before allowing children to use the peer-to-peer (P2P) network software. Pitts said the bill would give parents the tools they need to protect their children from the pornography available on P2P networks.

The decentralized nature of P2P networks, which allow users to download and directly share electronic files independent of a central server, has raised concerns among lawmakers and law enforcement officials that child pornography is spreading through the networks at an alarming rate. A number of reports have linked child pornography with pedophiles.

In March, the General Accounting Office (GAO) and the House Committee on Government Reform found that pornography is readily available and accessible on P2P networks.

The Protecting Children from Peer-to-Peer Pornography Act (H.R. 2885) would also mandate that distributors of P2P software provide notice that pornographic material can be accessed through the networks and requires the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to develop "do-not-install beacons" to block downloading of P2P software.

"Millions of people are using peer-to-peer software at any given time. About 40 percent of them are children," said Pitts. "Unfortunately, pedophiles and pornographers use these networks to distribute pornography. If a child using this software wants to download a file, he or she can type in an innocent key word and inadvertently download pornography."

The GAO report centered on a Kazaa search for image files using 12 keywords known to be associated with child pornography on the Internet. Of 1,286 items identified in the search, approximately 42 percent were associated with child pornographic images. The remaining items included 34 percent were classified as adult pornography and 24 percent as non-pornographic.

In another Kazaa search, the U.S. Customs CyberSmuggling Center used three keywords to search for and download child pornography image files. The search identified 341 image files, of which approximately 44 percent were classified as child pornography and 29 percent as adult pornography.

The search results of both the GAO and the CyberSmuggling Center were consistent with the findings of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which claims that P2P networks are increasingly popular for disseminating child pornography. The organization says that since 2001, when it began tracking reports of child pornography on P2P networks, complaints have increased fourfold.

The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.