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Child Pornography Exchange Through Napster and Gnutella

[Berlin, GERMANY] Napster and Gnutella, the popular Internet music exchange sites, are being used for the large-scale distribution of videos, software, and even child pornography. According to Computer Channel, a special branch of the Bavarian criminal investigation bureau is looking into the case. Research by the Computer Channel editorial staff has revealed that a large number of pirated films and software, as well as pictures and videos with explicit child pornographic content, can be downloaded from the file-sharing services with a click of the mouse. The criminal investigation bureau in Munich has confirmed this.

Simple searches reveal amateur and professional videos with file sizes sometimes exceeding 70 megabytes. They contain pornographic content of all kinds, including with children and youths. "The supposed .mp3 sound files with criminal content are quite simple to disguise and can be recognized immediately even by inexpert users," says Uwe Kauss, the editor-in-chief of Computer Channel. "After the download, users just have to change the ends of the file names."

The MyNapster file-sharing service makes it even easier to gain access to such files. The MyNapster software directly offers all file types for exchange. "It has never been easier for Internet users to get huge amounts of all kinds of illegal material," says Kauss.

Downloading child pornography is a criminal offense and is punishable by the police. If the computer under investigation is not in Germany, the German authorities forward their evidence to foreign colleagues. In many cases it is very easy to establish who the real person is behind the freely chosen nickname used at the file-sharing services. Every user surfs the Internet with an IP address which clearly identifies that user. Even in the case of dynamically assigned IP addresses, users can be traced through their Internet service provider.

Computer Channel reports that Napster has been under observation by U.S. security authorities for quite some time. According to FBI speaker Angela Bell, the FBI has set up a task force to track down providers of illegal material on the Internet. "In the past year, there were more than 1,500 FBI investigations into child pornography on the Internet," says Bell. Napster first came under criticism in the middle of December after the Office for the Protection of the Constitution had established that extreme right-wing music was being exchanged through the service. With around 40 million users, Napster is the most successful file-sharing service on the Internet. Since the end of 2000, they have had a strategic alliance with Bertelsmann AG.

Kauss notes, "Once again, freeloaders are abusing the free flow of information on the Internet to distribute criminal material. Our research, which investigators are now following up, proves this. Every user who takes advantage of such offers is committing a criminal offense. But there is no international game plan which would allow users, organizations, and the authorities to quickly and effectively deal with such outgrowths."