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P2P in the dock over child porn file-sharing

The use of peer-to-peer services such as KaZaA for the file-sharing of child pornography was debated on Tuesday in a US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.The hearing took evidence from enforcement agencies, all of whom warned that file-sharing allowed easy access to pornographic materials.11 Sep 2003

One witness, from the US General Accounting Office, was Information Management Issues Director Linda Koontz.

She presented the GAO's research on the quantity of child porn accessible on P2P networks and warned that children using P2P networks are at risk of unexpectedly downloading it.

"Searches on innocuous keywords likely to be used by juveniles (such as names of cartoon characters or celebrities) produced a high proportion of pornographic images. In our searches, the retrieved images included adult pornography (34%), cartoon pornography (14 %), child erotica (7%), and child pornography (1%)."

Alan Morris, Vice President of Sharman Networks, the company behind the most popular P2P network, KaZaA, said: "We utterly abhor child pornography. We do not want our software used to propagate this filth, even if it is in a small way." He argued that child pornography is an internet problem, rather than a P2P problem.

Morris added that his company does and will continue to co-operate with law enforcement agencies if anyone is placing such material onto its network. However, he considers P2P child porn to be a very small problem:

"Paedophiles quickly realized, when P2P first appeared, that it was a foolhardy way to pursue their warped ends. To make their 'collections' publicly available on P2P is counter to their cloak of secrecy. Law enforcement agencies quickly picked them off and so they retreated back to their sordid encrypted sites, newsgroups and the like."

He pointed out that, according to the GAO data:

"P2P plays a very minor role in the propagation of child pornography. P2P referrals presently constitute less than 2% 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%."

In his opinion the problem of on-line child porn was really web-based, rather than P2P-based. The focus on P2P child porn, Morris suggested, was more to do with a recording industry's attempt to smear the file-sharing networks, than any substantial threat from file-sharing itself.